Stopping Fear

Since that awful day in 2001, I’ve been very clear about one thing. Fear is a weapon. Those who seek to control us, the people, wield fear as a weapon to control our reaction, our attention and pervert our American values. But what is fear, really?

When our survival mode kicks in due to physical threat, fear is real and grounded. It may keep us alive. I’ve felt fearful around violent or intoxicated people...a remnant of childhood when my survival seemed at risk.  But this is a very different fear from imagining a violent incident or out-of-control situation. This type of fear is ungrounded. It is based in our minds by focusing on bad things that MIGHT happen. And those who use fear as a weapon are only too glad to help us paint fearful images, create panic and then seize control as the “hero” who will save us.

What should we do with this ungrounded fear? Bob Newhart delivers simplistic advice on ungrounded fears in this clip. I often find truth in humor.  

What Mr. Newhart doesn’t cover is the replacement or antidote to fear. What works for me is practicing courage. This is the exercise of taking action, despite fear. Action eliminates fear and restores our sense of control. We are no longer “at the mercy” of “whatever may happen.”

I learned that courage was not the absence of fear, but the triumph over it. The brave man is not he who does not feel afraid, but he who conquers that fear.

Nelson Mandela

How do you conquer your fear? Do you make plans “just in case?” Do you observe what you are thinking and treat fear like a weed… pulling out those thoughts and planting something nourishing?  I’d love to hear stories from you about times when you’ve conquered fear and exhibited courage.

Our country needs us to be courageous. Our communities and families need to be courageous.


Showing 10 reactions

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  • Debilyn Molineaux
    commented 2016-01-17 17:28:32 -0500

    Loved this article… many of the same points I tried to make… only better made.
  • John Backman
    commented 2015-12-16 14:56:57 -0500
    P Tellini: I’m not sure what to think about political correctness. The original impulse seems virtuous enough: people should be called what they want to be called; certain terms for certain groups have acquired historical-cultural baggage and should be avoided. This changes over time, so it behooves us to keep our cultural ear to the ground.

    That said, I’m starting to think that nearly any trend can breed its own extremes. In terms of “correct language,” it seems to manifest itself in shaming and zero tolerance for error in using the “wrong” word. This doesn’t take into account several human propensities: the propensity to screw up early and often, the propensity to not keep up to the minute when many other things scream for our attention.

    Of course, intent and tone of voice play a substantial role too.
  • Tom Appel
    commented 2015-12-14 13:57:46 -0500
    John and P Tellini, it appears to me that you are debating about anger rather than fear, especially by using Trump and his comments as examples. I see the two emotions as separate and distinct. Fear usually brings about withdrawal from a situation and anger results in taking a step forward to combat the unwelcome predicament. In similarity, both are illogical and somewhat instinctive. Most people are not afraid of an attack against them personally. They are more indignant that we have cowards in our midst that will carry out such atrocities against soft targets. Ironically, the cowards that perform these acts have no fear of dying. They seem to fear living instead with the frequency that they take their own lives or submit to police suicide when caught.
  • John Backman
    commented 2015-12-14 10:04:59 -0500
    P Tellini: You’re asking me to be more specific and to choose my words more carefully. Both requests are excellent in my book. Let me give it a go, and then I will ask a question of you.

    On the “hateful” scale, I’d have to put Trump’s mocking of a reporter with a disability at the top of the list. I can’t imagine any universe in which that’s acceptable behavior. After that, I think maybe it’s more precise to say that his extravagant remarks have incited hostility toward groups as a whole, regardless of any kernel of truth that may apply to specific individuals. In this category are the promise to ban Muslims from entering the U.S., his accusation that Mexico is sending its rapists and “bad guys” to the U.S., and his (sorry, I don’t know another word for it) outright lie about thousands of Muslims celebrating the 9/11 attacks in the streets of New Jersey. It is possible that a Mexican convicted of rape has crossed the U.S. border; it is possible that a few Muslims in the U.S. were happy about 9/11. But the effect of Trump’s speech is to broad-brush an entire group. I would be stunned to discover that he doesn’t know what he’s doing, and that, in my book, makes it hateful.

    Like you, I worry a lot—a LOT—about the fact that any disagreement sparks calls of hatefulness. It’s why I wrote an entire bloody book about dialoguing across divides. Similarly, while I do see a lot of merit in what you might be calling political correctness, I also know that it can morph into its own dangerous brand of fundamentalism—a “my way or the highway” approach to language.

    And that leads me to my question. I hope I’ve defined “hateful” in a way that’s useful to you. Now, could you please be more specific in your use of “political correctness”? The term has morphed into a catch-all these days, and if you offer specifics, I think it will be easier to address them in a way that gets beyond generalities. Thanks so much for hanging in there.
  • John Backman
    commented 2015-12-13 16:13:37 -0500
    P Tellini: I found your observation about Trump opponents intriguing—that they “oppose him because he challenges the status quo and tells it like it is.” I would submit (and Lord knows, I can be wrong) that many oppose him not for his plainspokenness, but for the content of his speech, which they find hateful. Conversely, challenging the status quo and “telling it like it is” are what I hear Trump SUPPORTERS often using as reasons for their support. Would you like to address this?
  • John Backman
    commented 2015-12-13 16:10:13 -0500
    P Tellini
  • Tom Singingcrow
    commented 2015-12-13 14:54:29 -0500
    Fear is (F)alse (E)vidence (A)ppearing®eal That’s it.
  • Tom Appel
    commented 2015-12-12 11:43:52 -0500
    Interesting to see how all the commenters below saw fear in a different perspective. I guess it really is a wide open concept that means different things to different people.
  • John Backman
    commented 2015-12-12 11:18:30 -0500
    Lately I’ve been pondering the difference between fear and hatred. Unless I miss my guess, fear may lie at the root of many people’s support from Trump—and I would like to listen deeply to that fear and understand it. But I cannot countenance the xenophobic hatred that seems to be arising out of fear—the flames of which Trump has so enthusiastically fanned.
  • Tom Appel
    commented 2015-12-07 21:04:43 -0500
    I am probably naive but I perceive fear to be a weakness. Caution is definitely a good reaction to have but fear connotes too much of what is already wrong with the human spirit. Never have fear to do what is right. As Farragut once said " Damn the torpedoes and full speed ahead." Fear cost McClellan his General of the Army status and 50 000 more men died than necessary in the Civil War after Gettysburg.