Fear and Loathing in Our World

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Puerto La Libertad, El Salvador

Lately I have been struck by the way in which fear plays out in present day societies.

Fear is so pervasive, that it has shaped the perceptions of policy-makers, law-makers, economists. It even has a way of creeping into workplaces, as uncertainties about the economy force managers to cut down their staff. Fear affects parents as they send their children to school. It affects everyday people within a given territory, as a separatist party wins an election and people begin to speculate about the solidity of the system “we” have built. Fear is something that governments constantly experience, as evidenced in the violence that has been sparked as a result of the video that denigrates Islam. On the other hand, it could be argued that Muslims’ fears about the denigration of Islam could likely stem from the religious consequences that this may have (I have not spoken to any Muslims about their fear, this is mere speculation).

In a sense, fear is experienced when boundaries as we know them shift and when notions of normal are challenged. I’m not talking about physical boundaries, but rather social, cognitive, subjective, and inter-subjective boundaries. In other words, fear is experienced when that which we know as normal gets thwarted or is challenged by something that does not belong, within our frame of thinking. In a sense fear can be equated to the unknown. We fear the unknown because of the potential repercussions that this unknown factor could have on us personally, emotionally, economically, or at various other levels of society or the individual.

I guess the purpose of this post is to give us hope about the fear that present day societies experience, because I wish to vindicate fear in some sense. I believe that fear in itself is not the problem, as several theorist and practitioners would have us believe. I believe that fear is a human emotion and without it we would not necessarily be humans at all. It is what we do with the fear that we feel that needs to the focus. Children experience fears all the time and as a father of a boy who is just beginning to experience the world, I can assert that experiencing fear is a facet of growing up. It is how we deal with his fears that is more important. There was a time when my son was fearful about sharing his snacks with me. His fear might have been as rational or irrational as fearing that he would not have any food left for himself, or that his dad was simply not able to the pieces of cereal he wanted so badly. Whatever the case was, it was important for him to understand that his fear were just that – fears – and that many, many things could have determined the outcome of the scenario. After all, I could have choked on one of the pieces of cereal by accident and his fears would have been confirmed – despite the validity of whether or not his fears were confirmed, within his frame of thinking. Nevertheless, I would know that this was an accident and in my mind his assumptions would be negated. The point being that they way in which fears are dealt with is far more important. Validating my child’s fear and keeping walking him through the process is most valuable in getting him to grow.

This being said, it may be that all the fears that we are experiencing as a society are getting us to grow. It may be that the fears that we experiencing are leading us into becoming a more accepting and more caring world. We have people condemning other societies for being fearful and acting based on fears. Let me propose that fear in itself is not the problem and instead of retaliating against fear, it is important to walk through experiences of fear because they might be the key to a different world.

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