Fear is good. In certain situations.
Like if you come upon a poisonous snake, coiled and ready to strike. Fear makes you jump back in a flash, much quicker than the reasonable, rational, thoughtful side of your brain would.
But most people today aren't faced with frequent fearful physical threats. Yet we're still afraid.
Of making mistakes. Being made fun of. Of failing. Of something bad happening to us in the future. Of saying or doing something outside the acceptable norm.
Religions make use of our propensity to fear what isn't actually there, yet can be imagined. Hellfire. Damnation. Bad karma. God's wrath. And naturally, death.
Which is super scary.
Dying and being gone forever. Maybe worse, dying and not being gone forever, but existing on in a nasty state reserved for sinners. And aren't we all just that: sinners? Religions make us fearful that we are, with commandments that encompass so many ordinary human thoughts and actions.
I've come to be afraid of something additional: fear. Not a fresh insight. Franklin Roosevelt famously said, "The only thing we have to fear is fear itself."
Well, also stuff that is authentically worthy of fearing, such as immediate threats to life and limb. Even here, though, excessive fear can be paralyzing rather than energizing. Milder forms of fear such as anxiety and worry also drain us of life energy.
Yesterday, on my other blog, I continued my musings about the meaning of a terrific movie that I saw recently.
Lots of wonderfully human emotions were on exhibit in "Beasts of the Southern Wild." One wasn't: fear. Nor its cousins: anxiety, worry, tentativeness. (Well, maybe a tiny bit, but barely.)
I loved how people in The Bathtub really lived their lives in the movie. No one was just going through the motions, playing a role, doing what was expected of them, drawing completely within civilization's lines.
I also got some anti-fearful inspiration after my wife told me about hearing Seth Godin interviewed on a radio show, and liking what she heard. This afternoon I checked out his most recent book. I got sucked into buying it after watching a video on Amazon that speaks about not being afraid of stepping outside cultural fences.
The video and book spurred me to Google what Godin has said about fear. A You Tube video called "Overpowering Your Lizard Brain" speaks to the subject in a fairly entertaining way. Living out in the Oregon countryside, I hadn't thought before about why I should be more afraid of deer than sharks.
On a Godin roll, I then wondered how the guy viewed religiosity, since religions are big on fearing God and other invisible scaries. The Great God Google led me to "Seth Godin on Faith, Religion, & Heretics."
Worth reading. Or at least scanning. Basic message: faith is fine. (See my "Don't believe, just have faith.") But religion adds some extra crap to faith.
Faith goes back a long way. Faith leads to hope, and it overcomes fear. Faith gave our ancestors the resilience they needed to deal with the mysteries of the (pre-science) world. Faith is the dividing line between humans and most other species. We have faith that the sun will rise tomorrow, faith that Newton’s laws will continue to govern the way a ball travels, and faith that our time in med school will pay off twenty years from now because society is still going to need doctors.
Chris Sharma is able to do a dyno [(a leap into midair from one "hold" to another)] on a rock face one hundred feet above the ground because he has faith that it’ll work out okay. If you watch kids learning how to dyno, you’ll see that the secret to developing the skill isn’t about building their muscles or learning some exotic technique. It is merely about developing the faith that it’ll work. “Merely,” of course, is a huge step. It’s nothing but a few neurons’ worth of faith, just the knowledge that you can do it. But without faith, the leap never works.
Faith is critical to all innovation. Without faith, it’s suicidal to be a leader, to act like a heretic.
...Religion, on the other hand, represents a strict set of rules that our fellow humans have overlaid on top of our faith. Religion supports the status quo and encourages us to fit in, not to stand out.
There are countless religions in our lives, not just the capital-R religions like Zoroastrianism or Judaism. There’s the IBM religion of the 1960s, for example, which included workplace protocols, dress codes, and even a precise method for presenting ideas (on an overhead projector). There’s the religion of Broadway, which determines what a musical is supposed to look and feel like. There’s the religion of the MBA, right down to the standard curriculum and perceptions of what is successful (a job at Bain & Company) and what’s sort of flaky (going to work for a brewery).
...That’s why human beings invented religion. It’s why we have spiritual religions an cultural religions and corporate religions. Religion gives our faith a little support when it needs it, and it makes it easy for your peers to encourage you to embrace your faith.
Religion is at its best a sort of mantra, a subtle but consistent reminder that belief is okay, and that faith is the way to get where you’re going.
The reason we need to talk about this, though, is that often religion does just the opposite. Religion at its worst reinforces the status quo, and often at the expense of our faith. They had a religion at Woolworth’s department store, and sticking, without variation, to the principles that made the store great prevented them from turning it into a new, better kind of experience. The store is long gone, of course.
They have a religion at the country club down the street as well. A set of convictions and rules that is just too hard to change. As a result, an entire generation of professional women won’t join that club, and it’s going to fade and blow away soon.