If you read my previous post, you will have seen that we are all, in one way or another, to a greater or lesser degree, afraid of something. Our fears can terrorise us. We can be frozen by fear, unable to act to do things that would actually help ourselves. Very often, fear is what takes over, when rational thinking gives up.
How many times do we fear the wrong things? For example, is it more terrifying to be unable to afford all the things you would like, to keep up appearances in life, than it is to never become the person you could have been? Is failing more terrifying than living a life without ever trying? Does your prestige matter, compared to saying and doing the right things? Are you more afraid of the authorities and what they can do to you than living in a society governed by capricious tyrants? The history of national security, since nuclear weapons were introduced, is anything but secure. It turns out that when the crises arise, generals and politicians are more afraid of looking foolish than they are afraid of wiping out life on earth, or even in a few major cities. Our security is given scant regard. The collective calculus of terror is all wrong. We worry about the small terrors and ignore the very serious threats.
Similarly, one fear can mask another. The fear of the blank canvas or page can be more a fear of becoming something that nobody thinks you can successfully be. It may be a fear of the disapproval of spending your time on something that is not considered to be a real job. You might be afraid of the blank page because you’re really afraid of feeling your emotions, or writing something down that is either too revealing or would in some way cause retribution from others. But what if making your art is really important? What if the bigger fear ought to be that you’re not making your statement and suppressing your true self to remain acceptable to others?
There are grave consequences for us all because we succumb to the wrong fears. We’re terrified of looking bad in a swimsuit, instead of worrying about taking steps to ensure our health will be sufficiently robust to live a long, full and fulfilling life. We’d rather be in with the cool kids, than set the agenda and state a case that others can support. We acquiesce when we should unite and confront. We allow things to continue, out of control, toward extinction and oblivion, because we’re too scared to make a change in the world and in ourselves and too afraid that we will be found wanting, lacking the power to make any impact on the problem. We wait for everybody else to solve the pressing issues, because we’re too afraid to believe that we have the power to do that for ourselves.
The calculus of terror is a strange thing. There are things we should be genuinely wary about, but so many of our terrors are located toward the insignificant or trivial side of the scale. While worrying about how our hair looks, or how to pack enough shoes for our holidays, we neglect the fact that we’re not living the fullest life we could be living, or making a contribution to the betterment of humanity as a whole. While we concern ourselves with having the latest computer game or watching the latest movie, we allow war to continue and innocent children to suffer and perish. While we worry about paying our bills, we forget that we’re paying for that with our health, our time on earth, our attention, our relationships, our community cohesiveness and our destinies. The opportunity cost is huge, but seldom recognised. We’re very often not paying attention to our inner callings, when we focus on making the rent or mortgage payment.
Society, as a whole, has it wrong. Our laws and government do think it’s more important to prosecute for unpaid bills, rather than to give a person time to emerge as a more significant contributor to society or to become the best version of themselves that they can be. Entrepreneurs are routinely shut down by banks, just before they succeed, to pay arbitrary charges and interest, or simply to make a profit for the bank. It’s insane. Why do banks do this? They act this way because they fear the wrath of bosses or shareholders. Why the rush to judgement of people on the cusp of creating something good for all of us?
We are set up institutionally to allow people who are most afraid of not doing what they’re told to forcibly ensure, through violence and coercion, that the rest of us are also terrified of not doing what we’re told, instead of being more afraid of not becoming what we ought to become. Our laws are written in terms of punishment, violence, terror and fear. It’s instilled in us. Those stupid rules at school serve the same purpose. Surely every teacher should be more afraid of creating compliant automatons, ill equipped for life in the post industrial world, than of not having a uniform dress code.
Nobody wants to be the first to offer assistance. They might mess up or be sanctioned for doing so. As a consequence, we walk past the homeless, who are often in dire need through no fault of their own. Instead, we demonise them, as sub humans responsible for their own plight, because it assuages our own fears of falling to the same point, due to circumstances beyond our control. If we believe the fiction that homeless people only have themselves to blame, it deludes us into believing we can prevent the same happening to us, by simply making better choices. It doesn’t always work that way.
We fail to finish our music, our writing, or our paintings because we fear the reaction. We think that the work will be judged to be not good enough and so, by inference, we’ll be judged as being not good enough. We’re taught to believe that other people can succeed, but not us. The fruits of success and fulfilment are always for other people.
I think it’s useful to take a thorough, dispassionate, honest inventory of the things that terrify us most and ask ourselves whether each fear is the worst thing that can happen to us. Are we afraid of the smaller terrors, while being ignorant or insouciant about the significant issues? Do we fear the thing we think we fear or something else entirely? If the only thing we have to fear is fear itself, as the saying goes, then surely striving for a level of fearlessness is a worthwhile thing to do.
It may all go horribly wrong, but if you act positively, it also may go spectacularly right. Even if it goes horribly wrong, can you survive it? What other things could end your survival, which are not on your fear radar at all? Should you accept war, poverty and starvation, when these could be ended at a stroke? Why are you more afraid of making a stand against these things, than the things themselves?
Make your art, make your statement, take a stand and don’t be afraid of becoming the self that you were born to be. Fight the lifetime of subtle neuro-linguistic programming that leaves us wearing a mask that we hide behind and acting powerless, when we have agency. Face your fears, feel them, evaluate them, examine them and then realise that most of the terror is meted out by terrified people. You don’t have to play along. You don’t have to fear the fearful. You can challenge them to confront their own fears, in turn, to change their own behaviour from compliance and complicity, to humanity and growth. Above all, always choose the life affirming option over the one that leads to destruction or decay.
Use your art as your protective shield.