Wednesday, June 26, 2013

The Fallacy of Fearlessness: A World Without Fear Wouldn't Be Much of a World At All

"The only thing we have to fear is fear itself." -- Franklin Delano Roosevelt

"Azul es el color que siente adentro. Matador, no puedo esconder mi temor." -- Sade, "Fear"

"The fear of death is fatal." -- my brother Alexi

As much as I admire FDR as a great American President, I'm going to have to disagree with him on the first one. Why fear fear? A little fear can do a body good. It can go a long way toward keeping it from venturing too far into the danger zone and engaging in reckless behavior.

And if we can shove past them, our fears can push us to new heights (figuratively speaking -- as someone with extreme high anxiety, I like to stay as close to the ground as possible, geographically speaking, unless I'm going up up and away in a big old jet airliner, a vertical rising that doesn't really frighten me at all). What we ought to fear is the crippling effect of fear.

A life without a little fear wouldn't be much of a life at all. If you're not afraid of anything, either you're a fearless daredevil (and if something isn't scary to you, doesn't is cease being daring), or you aren't really living. But everything in moderation, including, and perhaps especially, fear. If you're frightened to the point of immobility, then you're truly stuck. You can't progress onward and upward (which I'll be doing in two weeks, literally, when I put my fear of heights aside long enough to go as high as I can in Dubai's Burj Khalifa, the tallest man-made structure in the world), leading to a safe but predictable and uninspired existence. Isn't that sort of like a slow, boring, certain death, which, if you're living like that, is probably already your greatest fear?

Not mine, though. As I told my brother when he shared the insight above, I'm not afraid of death, as in the state of no longer being alive, which I imagine must be a lot like sleep, only endless. It's the part that immediately precedes it and leads right into it that worries me. (And worry, by the way, is the first cousin, the lame one, to fear.) Will it take years, months, weeks, days, hours or seconds? And most importantly, will it hurt? For that reason, I'm in no rush to shake hands with the Grim Reaper. I'd rather just sleep through his arrival.

I recently watched a documentary on Hades, the Greek god of the underworld. And as hard as it tried to portray Zeus's eldest brother as a shadowy, menacing figure and child molester (he did, after all, snatch Persephone, his niece and future underworld queen, from the warm bosom of her mother/his sister Demeter, in perhaps the first front-page kidnapping), to me he was just a misunderstood figure who'd been cheated out of a throne on Mount Olympus. Gloomy and bitter, yes. Scary, not so much.

But I can see why he terrified ancient Greeks. And in modern times, fear of death, fatal though it might be, is understandable. I think for many, it's where religion comes in. If you have something to look forward to after they lower you into the ground, it makes departing this mortal domain seem less spooky.

But leaving the Underworld for a moment (a virtual impossibility, as Sisyphus and Orpheus and Eurydice found out), and returning to the necessity of a healthy amount of fear, consider this: If there were no fear, there'd be no horror industry. As a non-fan of scary movies, that wouldn't bother me, but Wes Craven and Jamie Lee Curtis might not have careers in film. Stephen King would have a lot less to write about.

Though I'm no fan of the horror film (or horror fiction), the scary rides were my favorite part of going to Disney World as a kid. The Haunted Mansion. Pirates of the Caribbean. Snow White. As a grown up, I doubt that the evil Queen masquerading as an ugly old witch and shoving an apple in my face would frighten me quite as much as it always did, all those years ago.

As a journalist, though, I get scared all the time -- before I do an interview, after I take a new assignment, when I'm working on an assignment, after I turn in an assignment, when I write a blog post. I welcome that fear, though, because it pushes me to excel, to continuously try to top myself. The fear is what makes the completion of the task all the more exhilarating, which is, I imagine, how skydivers must feel.

My Top 3 Fears:
1) Heights
2) Roaches
3) Illness

Despite my sense of adventure, I'm not nearly as fearless as my travel itinerary might suggest. But if you are being ruled by a fear of flying, a fear of new people and places, and/or a fear of being alone (none of which I have, thankfully, though I'm in no hurry to ride in a helicopter or a hot-air balloon), and as a result, you're not leaving your comfort zone, then you're missing out on a great big yummy world.

A friend once told me that she's seen everything she needs to see. She no longer travels because of all the things that could go wrong in other parts of the world. But what about all the things that can go wrong while you're sitting at home on the couch?

Take it from a hypochondriac like me, one, by the way, who refuses to be crippled by a fear of illness (even without it, I'd still have trouble sleeping). Staying in won't keep you healthy, any more than staying home will keep you safe from harm. Anything can happen from the relative safety of your sofa. And if you might go out for good (in that Grim Reaper sense), you might as well go in a kick-ass setting.

A Fear Mix: 10 Scary Songs

"Fear" Sade


"In Fear of Fear" Bauhaus


"Don't Be Afraid of the Dark" Robert Cray


"I'm Afraid of Me" Culture Club


"The Fear of Being Alone" Reba McEntire


"I'm Scared" Duffy


"The Fear" Lily Allen


"Terrifying" The Rolling Stones


"Afraid" Nelly Furtado


"Fear of Ghosts" The Cure

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