Avoiding Fear

A few weeks ago, I read a Micheal Crichton novel about global warming: State of Fear. It came out in 2004, and it was based on the premise that global warming was basically a big hoax. That it wasn’t nearly as cut and dried as “everyone” wanted you to think.

It’s a tin foil hat book, basically. Though it did raise some interesting points and made me think about how research is presented and consumed. (But seriously, the book came out in 2004. Here we are 13 years later, and the arguments it makes don’t really hold up so well over time.)

However, one part of the book that appealed to me and which I still think about is how it argued that politicians and leaders prefer a populace that’s afraid. Fear is a big unifier, and if there isn’t something to be afraid of, people will manufacture it in order to gain leverage. I believe this is true, and I’ve tried to stop falling for the technique when I can.

I have one great example from my life where I let fear rule me. It was during the auditions for district band in high school. I was playing bassoon, and I was terrified of that audition. I went in, and I did horrendously. My fingers were shaking uncontrollably, I couldn’t breathe, and I flubbed pretty much every part of that audition. When we got the results back, I was so low. Low enough that my score would have been dead last in pretty much any instrument in comparison, no matter how many people tried out. The other three bassoonists who auditioned had scores over 100. I think mine was an 8.

It was bad.

But I still got in. Why? Two reasons, I think. First, they needed 4 bassoonists, and only 4 tried out. But I also believe my music teacher pulled some strings. He knew my skill level, regardless of how poorly I played. I have to think he reassured the other judges that I was much better than those few minutes of audition would lead them to believe.

Fear makes us perform poorly. It gets in the way of our thinking. It makes us doubt our abilities. It can skew your viewpoint. It’s one of the worst motivations to do something I can think of. And yet it’s also one of the most effective motivators, and it’s used all the time.

It’s used in religion, to frighten people out of sin. It’s used in the workplace to keep employees in line. It’s used in politics on both sides of the aisle. Trump wanted (and continues to want) Americans to be afraid of the future and the present. Others want us to be afraid of Trump. But fear, while an effective motivator, is also one with the shortest duration. Remove the active fear, and you remove the motivation.

On Sunday, President Uchtdorf, second counselor in the First Presidency of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, gave a great talk about the evils of fear, and that made me think more about the subject. It’s a great talk (and not just because he officially endorses falling asleep in church), and I encourage you to give it a listen.

I took away three things from the talk:

  1. I should not let myself be motivated by fear in any sphere of my life. I should try to do my best to be working for something, not against something. In other words, pick the things I love in life. The goals I want to achieve. Strive to achieve them. Strive to make the world, my family, and myself better by improving the things I love instead of trying to extinguish the things I fear.
  2. I should avoid using fear as a motivator for others. I’m not sure how often I do this, but I’m going to try to pay attention to times when I seem to be making threats instead of promises. I know I do it as a parent from time to time. It’s hard not to. But I certainly don’t want my kids to be scared of me, though sometimes that seems like the only way to get through to them. I think it’s the easier way, but not the better way.
  3. I can control those two points. How fear motivates me and how I use fear to motivate others. Beyond that, I can speak out against using fear, but I have to recognize how other people are motivated is out of my control, as well as how they choose to motivate others. I can speak out against fear, but ultimately it’s up to other people to decide how they want to use it in their life.

To me, the opposite of fear in these situations is love. To do things because you want a particular outcome, not because you’re afraid of its opposite. Perhaps one solution, when you feel you might be letting yourself be governed by fear, is to take a step back and look at what that fear is driving you towards. Sure, you’re fleeing something scary, but if it’s taking you in the direction of something you also don’t like, what good is that doing you? And if it’s taking you in a direction you want to be going, why not choose to strive to reach that place, instead of just trying to get away from the place you fear?

The best way to get someplace is to know where you’re going, not to know where you don’t want to end up. That seems like a statement that should be self evident, but I think it’s easy to forget when you’re in the trenches. I believe politicians love fear because it gets people moving. Moving away from their opponents, and never mind where they’re ending up instead. And when you believe passionately in a cause, and other people don’t share that feeling, it can be very tempting to try and resort to fear to get them to agree with you. But unless that fear is constantly present and immediate, it’s too easy to forget.

Anyway. I’m out of time for today. To sum up, I’m going to try to pay attention the next while to see when fear is being used against me or against people around me, and I encourage you to do the same. (Seriously. I’ve heard if you don’t, then you’re going to get torn apart by rabid wolves.)

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