Fear is a paralyzing, crippling emotion. It takes all of the joy of spontaneous living out of us. It keeps us off the paths of adventure and exploration. It turns us sour on life and people. It makes cowards of us.
I was a very fearful boy. I was afraid of the water and didn’t learn to swim until I took a beginning swim class in college. I was determined to conquer that fear that had kept me out of so many fun and happy moments growing up. And in spite of the embarrassment and terror of facing three mornings a week an Olympic size pool with a 15 foot deep end, I did learn to swim. I was the only non-swimmer in a class of 50 guys. I couldn’t even dog paddle. But in the last week of class I had to dive into the deep end, tread water for 2 minutes, and then swim to the other end. I did all of it and that class of guys lined the pool and watched and applauded when I finished and stood up out of the shallow end. I felt like some kind of hero.
Years later I made sure my boys learned to swim when they were just toddlers. And I have written here before about how Ingrid learned to swim last summer and what a triumph that was for her.
I have learned that life cannot be fully experienced in fear. Obviously we need to be vigilant and sensible and responsible. But there is way too much fear mongering in our society. It is everywhere in the media. In fact, the media survives on fear. They are lavishly paid to promote it.
I watched “Meet the Press” recently. I finally turned it off in disgust. David Gregory, the host, was as usual overly dramatic stirring up alarm and hand wringing about terrorists in the world out to get us. He’s still talking about the Boston bombing. One of his guests that morning was former New York City mayor Rudy Giuliani who blames president Obama’s lack of leadership for the bombing and basically called him weak on terrorists. Gregory put up a photo of the three 19 year old boys who are thought by fear fanatics and conspiracists to be somehow linked to the surviving bomber, Dzhokhar Tsarnaev and, incredulously, linked to Al-Qaida.
Giuliani kept calling them, “Those men.” Come on. They are teenage punks who were stupid enough to laugh off their school mate’s “prank” which then turned out to be a horrifying act of murder. But there is no proof those three were involved in any way other than to remove the computer from Tsarnaev’s room and dumbly try to keep him from being implicated in the bombing. And experts say there was little sophistication in the bombs in spite of their deadly effects. No links to foreign terrorist groups. And yet Gregory hysterically raises all of these fears about “the Homeland” being besieged by foreign terrorists.
Could we possibly take a breath and be reasonable in this country? The media, the conspiracy theorists, the sappy money driven political pundits, the crass terrorist book writers, the right wing TV preachers, and the entertainment industry are all making loads and loads of money off our fears. And worse than that, they are turning us into a nation of bullies, raging gun owners, haters of Islam and Muslims which most of us have never taken the time or the interest to learn a single thing about.
We just hastily, unintelligently believe whatever Fox News, MSNBC, or CNN tell us to believe.
Unhealthy, neurotic, obsessive fear is the fuel of anger, and that anger often leads to all kinds of erratic acts of ignorance, bigotry, violence, and ultimately, the loss of our freedom.
Who is telling us today to face our fears, to understand them, to conquer them? Who is helping us to not give in to hate, to stay away from rash judgments, to think about why anyone—a foreign terrorist, a domestic terrorist, or a crazed gunman—wants to hurt and maim and kill others? Who is helping us work through any of that so we confront our fears logically, smartly, able then to comprehend the issues and create constructive solutions?
My mom, bless her, fed my fear of the water as a boy because she was terrified of the water herself and never learned to swim. But once I realized how much I was missing; once I got tired of making excuses for not swimming with my friends; once I decided enough was enough and I was going to beat that fear, and learn what I was capable of, I found a courage I had never known. And a new way to enjoy life.
We need to encourage one another to not be so fearful. We need to think through our fears and not just stay in them. If we keep feeding our fears in this country we will remain in the shallow end of things always avoiding real life, being suspicious and mistrusting of others, hiding from the larger world, and staying forever trapped in limiting thoughts and actions.
Loren Eiseley, the gifted anthropologist, studied nature and humans. He said he always wanted to crush his fears and not be afraid of the future but welcome it and “salute” it. He wrote, “It is the salute of a gladiator ringed by the indifference of the watching stars.”
There is stoicism in those words but great courage too. Alone and together we can overcome the fears that mock us today. And we must before they ruin our future.
© 2013 Timothy Moody