Fear Itself

“So, first of all, let me assert my firm belief that the only thing we have to fear is . . . fear itself — nameless, unreasoning, unjustified terror, which paralyzes needed efforts to convert retreat into advance.”

Franklin Roosevelt, 1933

Feeling fear is an unavoidable part of the human experience.  We can be afraid of failure, rejection or abandonment;  afraid that we are not worthy of love;  afraid of being seen, or of not being seen;  afraid of making mistakes, or of not being forgiven for our mistakes;  afraid that others will hurt us, intentionally or unintentionally;  afraid that who we are is not “good enough”;  afraid that we may have misunderstood another’s character or the content of another’s comments;  afraid that we were somehow wrong to feel or think whatever it was that we felt or thought about a situation;  etc., etc., etc. The possible origins of our fear at any specific moment truly are innumerable…

…just as the negative impact that our fear can have on our lives is immeasurable. Fear “darkens” our thoughts and internal dialogue.  Fear distorts the way we understand what we hear when another person speaks.  Fear deafens us to the still, soft voice of G-d.  Fear causes us to not trust others or ourselves.  Fear causes us to lash out at others with unwarranted anger.  Fear renders us incapable of being honest, compassionate, or loving…with ourselves or with others.  Fear causes us to forget that others act like they are angry when what they truly feel is hurt or scared.  Fear can make us so insecure that, in our desperation to not fail, we place stumbling blocks in front of others to prevent them from succeeding.

But the absolute worst thing about fear, the reason it is so evil, is:

Fear keeps us from recognizing that when we choose to believe our fear and act based on that fear being Truth, we are more likely to behave in precisely the kinds of ways that cause others to fear us, to lose respect for us, to no longer trust us, and to (figuratively and literally) move away from us!

For example, if we allow our fear of rejection to control our behavior, that fear can become a self-fulfilling prophesy precisely because responses created from fear tend to be irrational, incomplete, irrelevant, or sometimes just downright mean.  Although our fear-driven response may have felt “right” to us in the moment, those on the receiving end of our response are not as likely to view our response as appropriate.  Receiving that less than favorable response can create more fear in us . . . leading us to produce more fear-driven behavior . . . resulting in more negative feedback . . . creating more fear . . . etc., etc..  This cycle can spiral us away from being able to find a reasonable, fair, or peaceful solution to even the simplest of problems . . . simply because we approached another person with our heart full of fear.

So, in those inevitable moments when we feel fear, what are our choices??
•• We can hide from the world and refuse to engage with anyone.
•• We can stand mute as precious moments of our all-too-short lives slip away.
•• We can believe our fear and let it decide what we say and do.
•• We can stare our fear in the face, refuse to let it control, and choose to act in accord with the infinite eternal love that surrounds us at every moment and in every situation.

Which one we choose at each moment and in each interaction is up to each of us.  If we aren’t sure at any moment whether we are being driven by love or fear, all we need to do is pause for a moment and reflect on whether, at that very moment, we feel anxiety or calm compassion.  Just reflecting can help us find our way to back to love!  Rabbi Rami Shapiro, The Sacred Art of Lovingkindness.

Jewish tradition teaches that we are working toward a better world, a world in which nation will not lift up sword against nation and famine will no longer exist.  Anyone who watches the news can see that we are still quite a distance from achieving that dream, and I think we can all agree that it’s about time we advanced again in that direction.

President Roosevelt reminded us that it is our fear that “paralyzes needed efforts to convert retreat into advance.” So, if we want to reach a day when we can “beat our swords into plows,” each of us must do our very best to ignore our fear and respond to others with compassion and love.

I know it’s not going to always be easy. . . but, remember, none of us is in this alone, because each and every one of us is afraid!!!  None of us wants to fail, be rejected, or be hurt. So, how about we all try?  Let’s do it!!   Together!!  Let’s all approach life, the world, and other people, only from love, only from love, only . . . love . . .

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