I’ve spent a lot of my life with my head in the clouds. Most of my childhood was filled with sci-fi books, video games and board games that no one else would ever play. I grew up in a religious household, but spent my days surrounded by friends whose parents were academics. It made it hard to relate due to the extreme differences in philosophy. I was more sensitive, more conscious of ethereal punishment. I was horrible at sports; the gene that spawned typical pre-pubescent male aggression managed to skip me. That meant, in turn, I was a total flop when it came to girls. I found myself in the permanent “friend-zone”. In summary, I did not fit in.
Several major events also impacted my early life. In fourth grade my maternal grandparents committed suicide. Well, I guess it’s classified as a murder-suicide. My grandfather, body riddled with two types of cancer, shot my grandmother, who was bedridden with rheumatoid arthritis, before turning the gun on himself. They were sick and tired of being sick and tired. I never knew them when they were well. The memories I have before that event are sparse. I can’t tell you much, except what I know from photos and fractions of images that I am able to conjure if I really concentrate. I can’t tell you what I felt on a regular basis. After my grandparents died, though I didn’t know it, I was scared. By the time I was a senior in high school I’d lost another family member and two childhood friends to untimely death. At that point, I wasn’t scared, I was angry.
It takes a complicated sequence of events to create a personality. As children we’re bombarded with sights and sounds, music and conversation, news clips and advertising, friends and family, which all swirl together in a mix of influence that we rarely have any control over. Understanding very early, on a subconscious level, that one has no control over these things can leave one feeling a bit like a lifeless vessel, continually bashed up against a rocky shore by a tide that is unrelenting. Fear of being trapped in wave after wave of a never ending cycle of exclusion and loss can really get to a person.
“Fear leads to anger, anger leads to hate. Hate, leads to the suffering.” – Yoda
Looking back on the years I was in middle school and high school, it makes a lot of sense. I developed a bit of a reputation for being a hot-head. I was quick to let frustration get the better of me, to react on impulse, with anger. Teachers didn’t get it, my parents didn’t understand. I was too immature to articulate exactly what I was struggling with because I just didn’t know. I was afraid. Of everything. Most of all I was afraid of never being “normal.”
Twenty years later the world is a different place, and I’m a different person. My unending obsession with self-evaluation has finally reached a point where I feel as though it actually served a purpose. I’ve managed to take what used to be a detrimental part of my personality and turn it into one of my greater strengths. Now, looking through a different window, I not only understand deeper aspects of my own motivators, but the influences of other people and to some extent, events on a societal level.
Fear is an amazing dynamo. More than any other emotion, it will cause a person to act completely out of character to prevent an estimated outcome. When I stop to consider how politicians get elected, how millions can be convinced that a person with different colored skin is evil, how a child acts out in violence against another child, every time the motivation can be traced back to fear. Fear of job loss, of status. Fear of being seen as inferior, of change. Fear of losing affection or love. Fear that no one will be there to catch you when you fall. Fear of dying.
To be afraid of something is natural. Our brains, though we consider them evolved, are still descendants of primal beings. Fear is a survival instinct designed to set off a series of responses, most notably defense. But because we consider ourselves evolved we tend to overlook that notion. That’s why a mass of angry people at the polls on election day are happy to vote for a candidate that will do them more harm than good when it comes to policy. They’re afraid of what will happen if they don’t.
“Fear is the main source of superstition, and one of the main sources of cruelty.” – Bertrand Russell
For every religious leader and guru in the world that seeks to teach the necessity for controlling our fear, there are three others that use fear itself as a primary tool for controlling their followers. Though they may not intend to, political and social advocates for unity use fear to drive people to rallies. They tell their constituents if they do not unite in love, they will be overcome by those who seek to divide. Yes, fear can be a motivator for love. Although, it may not be the healthiest kind of love.
It would be nice to say that I have purged myself of fear. But that would be a lie. I am a husband, a father, a son, a friend, a co-worker, a traveler, a wanna-be writer, and so many other things. To rid myself of fear completely I would have to go to great lengths to control several aspects of my life and that is all but impossible. In fact I would be giving into fear, by being afraid I would never get enough control. Today’s world is far more difficult than the one I grew up in. Not only can we turn on the news to find reasons to be afraid, we can read about it in social media, in the paper, hear it on the radio. I fear for my son and his generation, probably in the same way my parents were afraid for mine.
Fear will never go away. It will always be there, and I believe that is a good thing. It’s okay to be afraid because it is how our intuition speaks to us. It is how we are able to determine when something isn’t quite right. It’s what we choose to do with that fear that determines the outcome. It’s how we teach our children to deal with their fear, that will define the future.