In our life, several experiences have a critical impact on us, which, strictly speaking, cannot be classified as emotions. One of them which we share with all higher-level life forms is fear. In our human case, fear, like most mental activities, is related to thoughts though this relation is much less evident than in the case of emotions. The other, which applies only to human beings, is the tendency to worry. Those are the main reasons why I decided to present them in a separate chapter.
Originally fear played an important role as a state invoked when an organism was facing some existential distress. It signaled to the organism that it should prepare itself to hide, run away or defend itself. That was built into the genome, and the fear has not required any thinking.
Fear, among us, human beings still fulfills its original function to mobilize us in dangerous situations, but its role became much more all-pervasive and complex.
The main reason for that is the ability of humans to conceptualize the idea of the future. As civilization and culture progress anticipating the future became more and more important. While hunters/gatherers were running out of food, they were mobilized to hunt or gather, which has not required a particularly sophisticated view of the future.
But the situation changed radically with the arrival of agriculture as the primary form supporting existence and progress. Knowing some aspects of the future became essential. People needed to know when to plant and when to collect crops, for how long they need to store it to survive until the new ones arrive. That opened an entirely new world of concept and associated it with it thinking. At the same point, the worrying and fear concerning the future were born.
It begins soon after we are born – when an infant is told to behave in a certain way, and it does not. Even if it is not punished, the fear of breaking some rule arises. It increases when a child faces the world beyond its close family, most likely its little companions who may occasionally try to take away our toys, or even bite or scratch. In general terms, we learn that the world may be dangerous. Then comes school, the source of fear caused by teachers and other children, particularly the bullies. We also become afraid of not we popular and liked.
We could go throughout one’s life and notice how new fears are added to those already implanted. Usually, they are dormant and flare on certain occasions. However, their presence impacts our view on ourselves and others.
Particularly insidious is the fear that we do not fulfill various expectations: of our own and others. This fear manifests as a lack of self-confidence, self-loathing. That often begins quite early in our life, instigated by parents, family or other caretakers.
In our modern society, fear and worrying have perfect objects to focus on: our property and social position.
You may ask: “What about the fear of death? It does not seem to fall in the above categories.” Directly it seems to have no relation, but if we look deeper, we may discover that we treat our life the most precious of our possessions while the fear of death implies losing it.
Fear of losing our financial status is one of the visible manifestations of fear. However, it is always there even among the billionaires who react with fury at any idea that they may be taxed little more. On the other end of the scale is the fury of French railway workers “cheminot” who, for all costs, want to preserve their privileged status.
Anger is not an as popular reaction to fear as despair and depression. During the Great Depression in the USA, there were several cases of people who, after losing their fortunes, committed suicide.
Our fear not only focuses on losing wealth; in many situations, we are afraid of not gaining more than what we have. If we look at present thousands of billionaires who do everything to gain more, in spite that they possess thousands of times more than they could possibly consume.
One of the frequent occasions, when fear arises, is a situation when we have to make a decision. Of course, we are afraid to make a wrong one and face its possible consequences, but also we already anticipate a regret which may arise if it indeed will be correct.
The inseparable companion of fear is hope. The relation is simple and straightforward: if we are afraid that something terrible may happen, we at the same time hope that it would not. The only phenomenon which is excluded is the fear of death, so most of us do avoid to think about it.
In some way, it is more perfidious then fear because it also has a positive aspect.
It usually emerges just after fear as an attempt to soothe our state of mind. It tells us there may be some other scenario different than that presented by fear. However, it does not last too long because a sneaky suspicion that we fool ourselves arises and, the fear comes back.
The actions promoted by hope are strangely similar to those by fear. We try to defend ourselves or escape hoping that those will be successful.
However, sometimes hope may promote ignorance and inaction in the name that of an idea “somehow or other things will improve” or that “someone else will take care.” It now applies to the present quickly deteriorating situation of the world. The hope is, to no small extent, is the culprit of present beliefs in the wisdom of “world leaders,” scientists and, if those fail, into the love of God for his children. This form of hope, as it often happens, is a form of ignorance.
When we encounter something challenging, hope creates the belief that without it that everything is grim and not worth doing, so better give up. On the other hand, it drives us into actions where the outcome is catastrophic.
Hope generally has a positive aura attached to it, and we often feel that without it, nothing is worth doing, the world is grim and merciless.
Since fear and hope operate in tandem, they produce in our lives dis- equilibrating effects and are turn to go to one side or another. Eventually, being tired of this zigzagging, we chose one side and “hope for the best,” which rarely happens.
MR’s approach to fear and hope
As far as MR is concerned, the approach to both fear and hope is basically the same. First, we have to identify their presence if our minds. A helpful hint is that they both are a result of our obsession with the future. However, it is not as easy as it seems because they are often well masked in the disguise of rationality or inevitability. Fear is lurking under so many different forms that seeing them clearly, maybe overwhelming. A few examples may show its omnipresence. An obvious one is a state we experience before something which we believe is essential in our life, like high school or university. We are preparing for it, work hard, etc. but it does not eliminate the fear that we may fail. This fear may manifest as low-level irritability or efforts to ignore this inevitable event. Less obvious fears may happen in anticipation of a seemingly innocent situation like inviting guests for dinner when we imagine all possible scenario what may go wrong.
If we managed to see one of them, that is hope or fear; we might expect another is also lurking in the background. To do that, we must use our discernment and rationality. Once we clearly identify it, we look at its source: our obsession with the future return to the state of nowness and rest. The sense of relief and lucidity, which accompany may invoke our creativity which may help to decide what to do.