Fear is a big part of my life – more in the vein of competition rather than oppression. I have a lot of fears in my life, and a great portion of my day is spent being afraid of different things. Those moments, however few or fleeting, can be extremely useful if you have the courage to try and really roll up your sleeves and get to the root of the problem.
I have written quite a lot on the topic of fear, and while I feel comfortable with all that I have learned so far, I still yearn for more answers. I don’t think there is one absolute truth out there for anything; I don’t believe in an absolute ‘hockey standard’, or a ‘fashion truth’. I don’t believe in any type of ‘abstract’, objective standard of perfection. But I do think that we can find answers to many of the questions which we have. I think that each individual person is walking a completely different path from their fellow man, and as such, they will see ‘truth’ in a different context than everyone else. Our world is proof of this: there are Christians who are absolutely convinced of Christ, and atheists who deny his existence completely (as a spiritual being). I’m not saying I think everything is relative, and I don’t think supporting the idea that individuality extends well beyond our vain, egotistical values commits me to any form of post-modernism. I just sincerely believe that the amount of ‘stuff’ out there (facts, truths, things, events, future events, possible events) is infinitely larger than our minds can grasp. And I find an extreme sense of comfort in knowing that.
The particular question I have been obsessed with lately is this: how can I overcome fear. Overcoming fear doesn’t mean feeling absolutely no fear, but, for me, it means having an overarching understanding of fear, and all of the different ways of understanding fear. I think we can look for truth in many directions, and find incredibly satisfactory answers. But I don’t think those branches all converge onto one fact, or principle, or set of truths. I also think that our species is stupid and limited. We are beautiful and amazing, don’t get me wrong. But now that we don’t fear for our lives on a daily basis, we have food and shelter and disposable income, we have begun to fully grasp just how limited we are, intellectually.
It’s weird how our brains work. We see patterns and we see redundancies for patterns, and our brains work tirelessly behind the scenes interpreting and sifting through these patterns. As a result, answers often come from places we would never even think to look. This is called the Butterfly Effect. I bring this up because this very phenomenon happened to me recently, and it dramatically changed (and improved) my understanding of fear.
I was reading the famed ‘Ender’s Game’ series (I’m currently reading ‘speaker for the dead’), and although almost everything in those books has had a tremendous impact on my perspective, there was one part in particular that really connected with me. Ender was talking to an artificial intelligence and they got on the topic of emotions. The AI said that emotions were something she did not understand, as they are a direct product of our evolution – that’s why we share these emotions with animals. She said that she had been created, and so as a result she finds it very difficult to ‘feel’ the way that humans do. And that’s what got me.
When I stripped everything down, ultimately my fear was rooted in this feeling of mourning that things just hadn’t turned out ‘right’. I thought that there was some ultimate objective standard, and that fear itself derives objective existence from the concept of ‘well-being’. That insofar as life is better than death, death is a bad thing, and should, ought, to be feared. But why is that true? Why are the metaphorical, dark images which come to my mind when I’m afraid ‘bad’? Why is darkness ‘bad’? Why is ’empty space’, scary? The fact of the matter is, they aren’t. I find a crisp, clear summer day on a tropical island beautiful. But, perhaps to another creature, or even to another person, darkness is beautiful, and emptiness is beautiful.
Sure death sucks, and I can accept the fact that I will probably never rationally welcome death with open arms, but that fact does not commit me to the position that says fear has inherent existence and should rightly be feared. Fear does not exist, it just exists in us. It is incredibly complex, and if I try to surmise exactly what fear is in one, succinct sentence, I will fail. But fear is not real. It is a product of our evoultionary history, consciousness, our minds. Fear is as much a part of us as our arm, or leg. Evolution created fear, not the other way around.
I was thinking about this the other day: what would really happen if I gave up fear altogether. What if I were a soldier in battle, and as the enemy charged I threw caution to the wind and met them in pace and in spirit. And do you know what my very next thought was? I shit you not, “what if I just died directly after that. What if after throwing caution to the wind and meeting my enemy in battle I am instantly killed? What if my death is that unceremonious?”. What the fuck kind of disillusioned thinking is that? I decide to give up fear, but then the very next scene, the scene enshrined by both logic and reason, is a scene born of fear. What are the chances that I would just instantly die, unceremoniously directly after I give up my fear? Is that really an even balance of all the options?
See, that’s what fear does. Fear makes you think like there’s no other way out. It makes you see one single story, and then live by that story. Maybe in our evolutionary past this was adaptive (maybe that’s not even relevant), but now it’s not. Fear goes by another name: Barabbas. Fear can go fuck itself. We don’t need to let fear control us. You will not find that control in any religion, you will only shift the control from fear to God. The whole point of this rambling essay is to communicate that you can in fact let go of fear. You have to make that decision. It’s not going to be easy. You may feel slightly informed and maybe partially inspired after reading this, but your journey is far from over.A few parting tips:
- Turn everything into a challenge. Life will be much less threatening if you realize you’re a competitor.
- Accept your inevitable death. You’ll never truly get a grip on fear if you constantly entertain the delusion that you’re immortal.
- Shed your fucking ego: chances are, you will not be remembered long after your death. Find how empowering that is. Empowering in the sense that at the moment you realize how insignificant you truly are, you will finally see how much work you have to do to get where you thought you were going.
- Stop being so entitled: like I said, you’re going to be forgotten when you die. That means that no one will remember except for your family. This is why Eric Harris did what he did; he wanted a shot at immortality. Don’t do that. Instead, do everything you can to be remembered once you die – for positive reasons. At the very least, after your gone people will have a whole lot of respect for you. And there are few more comforting thoughts than that.
- Work hard: work when no ones looking. If you work for recognition only, than you really didn’t grasp the last four points at all.
- Be nice and kind to others. Fear leads people to do horrible things, and transforms people into horrible little mirages. If your afraid, run in the opposite direction. Be as nice and kind as you can, and I guarantee you, your fear lose that intensity.