The question occurred to me after watching the trailer for M. Night Shyamalan’s new futuristic tale After Earth staring Will and Jaden Smith. In the trailer, we can hear Will say to his son, “Fear is not real, it is a product of thoughts you create. Do not misunderstand me. Danger is very real, but fear is a choice.”
I put the thought in the back of my mind and let it marinate for a few days. Today I had lunch with a friend. He’s a young successful lawyer, who after three years at a prestigious firm has given his notice to pursue a start-up venture.
He explained that the choice was indeed very difficult. The fear of failure, the fear of losing job security, the fear of losing money and respect, the fear of future uncertainty … all undoubtedly weighed very heavily on him. However, he made a choice – a very admirable choice at that. A choice that many people think about, but so few act upon.
Fear is a very primal emotion that has many positive benefits. It allows us to make quick judgements when confronted with potential dangers and allows our brains to recall harmful threats so we avoid them in the future. But beyond these primal advantages of fear, it has limited application in modern times. No longer are we traipsing through the jungle eating berries and wild mushrooms while being hunted by jaguars.
The dangers we face today are quite minimal statistically speaking. According to the Department of Justice statistics, the odds of being robbed in the US are about 1 in 420 per year. I imagine those numbers are even significantly greater in other western countries.
Today we have increasingly more control over our environment, yet have much more fear than ever before. Things like money, health, and how we are perceived in society are causing a great deal of anxiety and depression.
The reason seems to stem from the media realizing that stories focused around sensationalist fear capture more people’s attention. Instead of humans evolving past fear, the media has reintroduced this primitive emotion into our lives in excess. With all the reports of natural disasters, terrorism, and school shootings, we have a skewed sense of the real dangers in the world.
Fear is a powerful emotion that can creep into other aspects of your life. It can remain in our minds and can be difficult to get rid of. Often we exaggerate the dangers and focus on the negative instead of the positives.
So how do we deal with fear?
I cannot advise you how to best live your life, but at the very least, be aware of how much of your decision making is based on unnecessary fear.
As Franklin D. Roosevelt famously stated, “…the only thing we have to fear, is fear itself.”
Article by Edward Mullen
Host of The Edward Mullen Podcast