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Rethinking Our Fear

“There is nothing to fear but fear itself.” -Franklin Roosevelt


Insecurity is a natural consequence of our mortal human experience. The most primal hardwired function of our brain is driven by a survival instinct, which is governed, to a large extent, by a negativity bias that operates without our conscious awareness. Negativity bias creates thinking mechanisms steeped in our worst fears and limits our view of the world with rigid judgments.  This natural closing, left unchecked, translates into a defensive posture that impacts our capacity for relating, especially within our most intimate relationships. Re-thinking the source and experience of safety in the world is one of the most powerful shifts of intention we can bring to our relationships to life, as well as to the people we love.

Generally speaking, the more fearful we are the narrower our worldview becomes. Moreover, our ability to tolerate change and diversity around us is diminished. Negativity bias is the basis of most prejudice because human differences are perceived as threats instead of as the richness of human experience. Our family relations and intimate attractions follow the same patterns, which lock us into rigid boundaries that prevent us from authentic communication and full disclosure of our emotional needs. A mind that is constantly in judgment of others, most harshly judges itself. Fear keeps us from tapping into our capacity for compassion and kindness.  Likewise, a fearful mind acts as a ball and chain on our hearts as suspicion and mistrust overshadow our capacity to receiving love.

Likewise, the most dangerous and hurtful sexual expressions we witness around us make sense through the lens of this powerful negativity bias. Sexual phobias, sexual abuse and repression all live on a continuum of judgment and fear. These are not the bedfellows of pleasure and our natural orgasmic response. Studies demonstrate how our brains cannot simultaneously process fear and awaken the pleasure centers. A lifelong frustrated human sex drive that is cloaked in shame and driven by fear is a potent force to contain, which explains the rampant sex abuse of children, global rape statistics and the vast expanse of sex trafficking. In countries where sexual fear and shame become the cultural norms, no one is safe and sex is used more frequently as a tortuous weapon than as an act of love.

At one of the lowest points in our collective cultural history, President Franklin Roosevelt spoke to our nation: “There is nothing to fear but fear itself.” The truth is that fear begets more fear.   The more we lean towards our sense of insecurity, the more unsafe we become. We are our own worst enemies; negativity bias left unchecked leads only to destruction of all that is best in us.  Having the courage to face our fears, name them and be willing to work with them openly is the only path through this dark side of our human experience. What we achieve or fail to achieve in this measure of living defines the rest, and yet we receive little training for this alchemical process of turning darkness to light and judgment towards love.

We have however had a few remarkable teachers in this process who have demonstrated the powerful path out of fear. Martin Luther King Jr.’s teachings, long associated with civil rights, were at their core more about achieving our full humanity. He taught of the redemptive power of love, the daily practices of compassion and forgiveness, and the courage to stand up for your values. About fear he said this: “Normal fear protects us; abnormal fear paralyses us. Normal fear motivates us to improve our individual and collective welfare; abnormal fear constantly poisons and distorts our inner lives. Our problem is not to be rid of fear but, rather to harness and master it.” Choosing our relationship to our fears is choosing our relationship to the whole of our lives.