Through out my life, I’ve seen people blaming the Other’s lack of fear for their bad choices. A lack of fear of the afterlife can be blamed for anything for partying to harming others. A lack of fear of suffering is blamed for risky sex or drug abuse. A lack of fear of the apocalypse is blamed for militarism or climate change denial. A lack of fear of death is blamed for not improving healthcare or addressing gun violence.
I’ve come to think this sentiment is not just wrong about the cause, but also wrong about the benefits of fear. Fear doesn’t lead to good decision making in humans. Fear activates our fight or flight responses and we make short term decisions. Fear creates reactivity, not proactivity. Fear is not a good teacher, of children, of pets, of adults. It breaks people instead. Fear is the mindkiller.
I think more often than not it is the supposedly missing fear that motivates maladaptive behavior. A fear of death drives people to feel alive and deny their mortality, a fear of being forgotten leads to Machiavellian means to rise to the top. A fear of war motivates armament build up or preemptive strikes. A fear of the world changing drastically leads one to deny things which says we must change or it will change for us. Fear is behind the hate of white supremacists, homophobic churches, and anti-islamic groups.
While many religions have strains that have adopted fear to motivate behavior, the most inspiring and uplifiting messages at the base of religion is a message of hope and peace, not fear. The bible repeatedly tells people to not fear. Buddhism places fear as one of the ways the ego protects itself. The message comes through in both that fear is behind much of the worlds pain.
If we look at the problems above, we can see why fear is a bad way to approach them. Fear of eternal death drives one to grab all the pleasure you can with no regards to the consequences. Fear of the afterlife can cause one to ignore or even cause suffering in this life in order to live by their perception of the rules they’ll be judged by. Fear of climate change may cause us to take drastic action that we can’t control. Fear of korea’s nuclear capabilities may cause us to start a war where millions will die.
We instead must listen to the fear, understand what it’s warning us of and take reasoned controlled action. We should be aware that this life has an end and make sure to not live for ‘someday’, to tell those who matter to us that we love them, and to be present. We should be aware of moral imperatives and work to leave the world better than we found it. We should be aware of the way we’re changing the planet, and try and find better ways to meet our needs and to undo the damage we’ve done for future generations. We should be aware of the dangers of war and try to avoid it.
Don’t let the external forces that you fear control your life, be proactive and thoughtful in how you respond.