A few thoughts about fear this morning:
One of my favourite quotes about fear is... "Let your fear be your counsellor, not your jailer."
Regardless of who said this, I believe it is true. Fear is an evolutionary response to help us avoid things that might harm us and aid in our survival. I think it is probably the first, most basic emotion. Fear and desire are probably, in my opinion, the emotions that first develop in creatures once their brains attain the complexity to neccessary to have emotion.
Among the living beings of our planet, I have noticed that intelligence and brain complexity seem to go hand in hand with the ability to feel more varieties of emotion.
I doubt fish, for example, have the ability to feel as wide a variety of types of sadness as a human being can, if they actually feel sad at all. It is rare to see mourning behaviour in fish, for example. There is plenty of evidence that dogs and elephants, for example, can experience mourning. I am certain most mammals feel sadness and can get depressed, even if they don't have the ability to express what they feel in words. Regret, despair, remorse, sorrow: we have many words for all the different flavours of the sad emotion There are even more varieties of sadness in humans, subtle shades that we don't have actual single words for.
And yet, I think even fish are scared of things.
But I digress...
The problem with fear is this:
Let's say you saw a car run over someone and that person died.
Now your fear filled primal brain thinks: CAR= danger/death
The fear brain's job is to keep you alive and out of danger.
According to your fear based instincts this means avoid all cars out of fear because they can cause harm. While your fear brain might realize that some cars are not dangerous (such as parked cars), the fear brain's job is only to keep you alive, and the risk of death/danger from cars, outweighs the fact that some cars might not harm you and might actually help you go places you want to go.
But in the real world you can't avoid all cars and do things like go to work, earn money, pay the rent, etc. If you run for the hills every time you see a car you will be screwed in terms of modern life survival.
But the fear brain does not understand modern life. It is part of that pre-stone age part of you. It does not understand long term thinking. Concepts like, I will have to drive the car to get to work and when I work I will get money and the money will then allow me to feed and shelter and clothe myself when I get paid in a month's time do not make sense to the fear brain.
This is because the fear brain is so primal, it only understands moment to moment survival. It is only capable of thinking in black and white, such as concepts of absolute danger and concepts of absolute safety.
Plenty of life requires us to do "gray things" that are neither completely safe nor completely dangerous. Many things we do may hold some risk of physical and emotional pain, even of possible death or injury in order to reap possible rewards. No reward in life is ever guaranteed because things can be very unpredictable.
Fear protects us from harm, but it is also very very dangerous. Fear acts as a jailer to many people, keeping them from experiencing things outside their known safety zone.
Extreme fear can cause three main instictual reactions: Fight, flight or freeze.
Certain people like those right wing talk show hosts in the US, know how to tap people's fears. Once you get someone whipped up into a high state of fear where they are operating on pure instinct like that, they cease to question actions they would normally think about. People will do anything to protect themselves, even hurt other people they wouldn't normally think of hurting.
If you stop thinking and let your fear lead you by the nose you can be drawn into supporting injust wars or harmful legislature. The fear of "the Other" is very strong in human beings. The chance that the Other might not be harmful after all, is outweighed by the risk in some people's minds that if you let the Other get the drop on you, you could be wind up dead.
Authority and heirarchies are often based on fear, rather than on choosing the person with the most skill or intelligence. Bullies often control classrooms, just as they control board rooms and political situations, because they inspire fear and awe in their subordinates.
I think one of the best ways of dealing with fear is simply to recognize when you have an entered an illogical fear induced frenzy. Ask yourself, is my fear causing me to make choices that are not conducive to my well being in the long term? Learning to recognize when fear has got the upper hand and to step back and see it for what it is, is something I think people have to learn.
If you don't learn to recognize it, you become a tool of your fears prejudices rather than an automonous individual who uses their fears as part of their arsenal of tools for navigating the world.
Fear can be helpful. There are times when it is good to listen to your gut feelings about a situation that may be harmful. Sometimes it is good to avoid things that you feel may cause you harm or danger. Fear Sense is like Spider-man's spider sense, that is useful because it can warn us when our other senses don't.
But question your fears logically before you make decisions based on them. Fear can make you make some pretty bad decisions if you listen to it unquestioningly.
So in short: use your fears, but don't let them use you.
If you ever find yourself like a horse that your fear is just riding, rather than someone riding your fears, than it is time to get some proffessional help.