Oh This Sorrowful Life

What is fear? It is an emotion. What is the basic function of an emotion? To solve problems. When do we feel fear? When we are faced with a problem. What kind of problem? The most important kind of problem: the ones involving our own safety and existence. Are there other emotional correlates to fear experienced in the face of a problem? Yes. There is frustration, there is anxiety, there is doubt. So fear is just an extremely potent signal built into our biology (our stimulus-response system) to let us know there’s an important problem that needs to be solved? Yes, and no. It’s also a way to solve the problem. There is the fight or flight response; fear helps us solve the problem by raising our heart rate, getting our blood pumping, getting our o2 concentration up, preparing us for a fight or a flight. It also chooses one or the other; before we’re ever conscious of the fact that we cant win a fight, fear pumps up and our bodies make the choice our feet are too ambivalent too.

The problems associated with fear arise from our complexity. We are capable of so much more than a  fight-or-flight existence; our lives have meaning, we are conscious. We have transcended our biological ancestry. Fear no longer serves a continual function in our lives, and instead actually inhibits our capacity for happiness and personal growth.

Fear is, after all, a problem solving strategy. But we have a much better problem solving system; we have our rational, conscious minds. We are capable of meta cognition, and we live in a century where our basic needs are constantly met. So, do we still have to rely on fear to solve problems? No, and yes.

I don’t know what the future holds, but fear will be a part of the lives of everyone living today. However, fear often keeps us from living the best version of our lives. Take, for instance, our shared fear of death, and pain, and suffering. As a chronically ill person, I can tell you first hand how little the drive for self-preservation helps us on our journeys for personal growth and self discovery. It allows fear the authority to govern our actions and in turn our biology makes the decisions for us. We don’t do things with a great risk, generally, out of fear. We don’t really push ourselves to do things we don’t like to do, out of fear. It’s no coincidence that the most hedonistic and enjoyable things are those with the least amount of risk. We don’t want to ‘waste our time’ doing things we don’t enjoy. Which means we don’t regularly do the things we need to do – studying or reading instead of watching television or playing video games, or making home cooked meals instead of going out for dinner.

There aren’t many things that make accepting death easier. It will always be hard, but we do have a say in how it affects us, and the way we live. You have to live every day as you plan to live your future; we all have plans for change, but they are often conditionally dependent on certain things. One of those things that makes death less intimidating is knowing that you’ve inspired others to be less afraid. Altruism is practically useful, and in respect to death, it is one of the most useful things we have at our disposal. Living your life for others makes it much easier to live your life, and to become the person you want to be. Living a selfish life is mutually exclusive to living a fulfilled life – one of personal growth and self-discovery. Because that life depends on luck – being lucky enough to maintain selfishness requires health, looks, people skills, strength, gender and even race (as well as all the general luck – like not being shot, or hit by a car, or contracting a fatal disease). In that respect, its obvious that selfishness is untenable. And even if you disagree still, what is the selfish person to do at the point of death? How do they cull fear and meet death? You could apply the argument mentioned above, and posit that selfishness is akin to hedonism, and hedonism limits the spectrum of enjoyable-things to low-risk-things. And in that way, it is still fear-driven. Being altruistic, on the other hand, knocks death down a few notches. Living your life for others gives you meaning, and allows you to transcend fear; sacrificing yourself for others is the ideal selfishness; it gives a person meaning, removes the hold of fear, it employs reason to solve problems, rather than fear, it ensures you will be remembered, and allows you to do things you wouldn’t otherwise do if you lived a selfish life.

Fear is helpful, but it’s not causally tied to the problems in our lives. It’s a way of solving those problems, and a way of experiencing, but it’s not the only thing we have to feel, or have to evaluate the factors of a problem with. It’s one of many tools at our disposal. And ultimately, it’s just a tool. You may not be able to remove fear entirely from your life, but I’m not sure you’d want to. You can, however, remove the fear of fear. There is, after all, great peace and value in a good death. A death where you meet your end. Not a death with a lost version of yourself; a delusional, shadow. Not a death by torture. A death with your loved ones, and the knowledge that you did well. Or the death to protect another. And even if you’re alone, a good death still has value. Maybe not to your personal sense of self security, or your own needs, but it proves that the idea of a person has more value than any individual. You can meet the fear with courage and bravery because another’s peace perhaps depends on it – the truth that no matter what you can still find peace. Even if it doesn’t seem so, doing good is always glorious.

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