"The only thing we have to fear is fear itself." Franklin D. Roosevelt
I used to be afraid.
I feared many things: snakes, spiders, (lions, tigers and bears), the dark, being alone, writing, people not liking me, war, a car wreck, strangers, the monster under my bed and bad things happening to good people – to name just a few. When you think about it, there are lots of fears one might choose to choose.
After my children were born, my trepidations shot into overdrive. I was afraid for them as well as me and added new items to my fear-list – things like diaper rash, scraped knees and germs. I worried about warts, whooping cough, allergies, asthma and dried beans shoved up a nostril.
My anxiety was logical. The greatest fears come from the possibility of losing that which is the most precious to us.
Fear can be paralyzing. If you are frightened of everything, you can’t do anything without being afraid of something bad happening. And it will. Bad things happen – all the time – even when you are as careful as careful can be. In other words, fear that runs rampant – fear of the world at large – does little to protect us from it.
Isn’t that a scary thought?
Fear can also be contagious. If everyone around you is scared of snakes, chances are you’ll develop the same apprehension. I took pleasure in the fact that my kids had the same color eyes as me, but I didn’t want them to inherit fear from my behaviors or gene pool.
As I came to comprehend this, I realized I had a choice. We all do.
Life can be a scary proposition. Heck, it is a scary proposition. But living in fear does nothing to remove the scariness factor. Most often it does the contrary. I didn’t want to be afraid all the time. So, years ago, I decided I’d no longer let fear guide my actions.
It was a simple – and complicated – decision.
Fear sits deep in our bones, or more correctly, our psyches. Our brains are wired to recognize potential danger (i.e. things to worry about). You can’t just hop out of bed one day and say, "Today I live without fear!" There is no anti-fear pill to pop with our morning vitamins. No magic training method to delete fear from our lives.
Some amount of fear is unavoidable – healthy, even. For instance, I am afraid to put my hand in a pot of boiling water. But, I also believe fear is a choice. We can decide to live with an attitude that does not allow fear to take the lead. It is possible to move beyond fear and distance ourselves from its grip. Like most things, it gets easier with practice, but we have to want it. After a time, we might even get comfortable enough to forget about fear for a mile or two – or even longer.
Until something like the events of last week slaps us in the butt and in a blink fear is back on our heels again.
Only if we let him.
A synonym for fear is terror. Many of us know the famous quote from FDR’s inaugural address at the beginning of this column. If you’re like me, you didn’t realize how he ended his sentence back in 1933. He said, "The only thing to fear is fear itself – nameless, unreasoning, unjustified terror which paralyzes needed efforts to convert retreat into advance."
In the events of the last week or two, people have used terror to attempt to paralyze us with fear. We cannot let this happen, because if we do, their evil has struck us down just as aptly as any bomb ever could. Violence can hurt us. Fear will paralyze us.
No matter how heinous the act, we cannot allow ourselves to be paralyzed. Instead, we must go out there – and run.
(Jill Pertler is an award-winning syndicated columnist, playwright and author of "The Do-It-Yourselfer’s Guide to Self-Syndication" You can read more columns at the Slices of Life page on Facebook.)