The Problem with Fear

20th November 2015

Growing up, my parents taught us that if you don’t have anything nice to say, don’t say anything at all. With four kids, all of which seem to have inherited the quick and occasional Irish temper, it was repeated with a relentless fury in our household.

When that advice didn’t stick, it was usually thanks to the screaming of the “s word”, a reigning master insult we would each throw across a room more than our parents would have liked. For the record, the “s word” was likely defined by the atrocities of “stupid” or “shut-up”.

On the upside, it turns out calling my brother Erik stupid approximately a bazillion times didn’t change his upbringing by so much as a fraction. Of my three siblings, Erik is my closest in age and, statistically speaking, probably received the highest frequency of this foul language. Today, Erik is an astrophysicist and possibly the most rational and humble human being I have ever met.

In the days that have followed Paris, my mom’s voice has been on repeat in my head with each media report, Facebook post and sideways comment. While I’d like to respond to each and every post fueled by hate with a retaliation of more than scary s-words, my experience thus far has proven that it’s likely not very conducive to getting anything accomplished.

So as I sit here, trying to decide whether it’s more productive to open my mouth, or not say anything at all, I’ve reached this conclusion: hateful comments aren’t at fault for or a solution to what’s unfolding in the world around us.

Here’s the thing about hatred, negativity and tempers: we control them. Individually. Erik did. Which is why my words didn’t inhibit his ability to turn out to be a stable, loving and brilliant brother later in life, despite my best efforts.

The outside world, myself included, doesn’t have the power to control our reactions. When you take a step back and consider this human superpower to self control emotion, it’s a pretty incredible gift. It’s why above all of the heartbreak you’ve stumbled upon breathtaking stories like this in the days since Paris.

We were designed by our Creator to think, to love and to act individually. So what if instead of channeling our actions into an influenced spirit of hate, we sought to better understand what was causing it to rise up inside of us in the first place?

We can blame hate on the actions of others, but if I categorize hate as an emotion I control, then I’ve made the conscious decision to allow it to control me. If hate is a conclusion I somehow reached, then there must also a way I can reverse it.

It starts by understanding that hate is simply fear, dimensioned.

A few months ago, I had the pleasure of hearing from professional Red Bull kayaker Steve Fisher speak at an Atlanta Creative Mornings event on the topic of action, and subsequently, of fear. If you think you understand fear, pause now and watch the trailer for Steve’s last project here.

While the rest of us may deem him insane, Steve breaks down what he does for a living quite simply.

Fear is an assessment of risk.

Fear is subjective.

Fear isn’t calculated.

Risk is calculated.

We assess risk by understanding it; breaking it down into statements, actions and the likelihood of a particular outcome. By understanding risk, we grant ourselves the permission to dissolve fear.

Ultimately, like hate, we individually have the power to control fear. We grant fear the power to inhibit us from taking action, or in the case of those horrific actions take in Paris on Friday night, to succumb to it. We can’t change someone else’s fear, the same as our inability to dissolve their hate. We can however choose to dissolve our own fears and fight for their opposites.

I know from experience that someone else’s hate cannot control my happiness, the same way my hateful words couldn’t control Erik. In the light of the what’s unfolded in the world around us, I refuse to succumb to fear. I refuse to share an emotion with a group of individuals who haven’t taken the time to calculate, understand and connect with what’s driving their own irrational emotions.

I choose understanding.

I choose curiosity.

I choose conversation.

I choose community.

I choose faith.

But not fear. Not isolation. And most certainly not hate.

We have a long, and very hate filled, road ahead of us. I’m certain our superpowers of emotion will be tested again and again in the days to come. If we control any of what the world throws our way, let it be how we control our fear. Let it be that we face our fears and channel them into a search for more ways to help, not hinder. Let it be that we open our ears to new conversations, not hide in old ones. I’m hopeful in doing so, we may collectively find a power and resilience to fight for good, together.