None of this is to suggest we shouldn’t be cautious or aware or concerned, that we shouldn’t be proactive in caring for ourselves or our children, and taking normal precautions for health and safety. But simple things like wearing seatbelts and washing hands will do more to protect you than refusing to talk to strangers or carrying a gun.
“To fear is one thing,” says author Katherine Paterson, who wrote Jacob Have I Loved (HarperTrophy, 1990). “To let fear grab you by the tail and swing you around is another.”
Nobel Prize Laureate Bertrand Russell, a British philosopher, logician, essayist and social critic, suggested, in 1950 when we were dealing with all sorts of still familiar concerns, there are two ways of coping with fear:
“… one is to diminish the external danger, and the other is to cultivate Stoic endurance. The latter can be reinforced, except where immediate action is necessary, by turning our thoughts away from the cause of fear. The conquest of fear is of very great importance. Fear is in itself degrading; it easily becomes an obsession; it produces hate of that which is feared, and it leads headlong to excesses of cruelty. “
In “We are Not Afraid,” Homer Hickam, author Rocket Boys (Delta, 2000) (which was made into the film, October Sky) , drew on his experiences growing up in the brave and resilient community of Coalwood, West Virginia, a town were the threat of death was constant, but fear was not. He said Coalwood residents take a four pronged approach to fearlessness that he sums up in something like a set of mantras:
- We are proud of who are
- We stand up for what we believe
- We keep our families together
- We trust in God but rely on ourselves
Hickam also says something profoundly Buddhist early in his book. He says that despite the ills of our society, we largely live among compassionate, kind and optimistic people who are striving to do good. “As an American,” he says, in a line that would make the Dali Lama proud, “you have a duty to be happy. It says right there in our Declaration of Independence that we have god given rights to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. So do your duty. Learn how to be happy and keep this in mind: You can’t be happy unless you stop being afraid.”
Senator. John McCain (R-Ariz.) puts it less poetically: “Get on the damn elevator! Fly on the damn plane! Calculate the odds of being harmed by a terrorist! It’s still about as likely as being swept out to sea by a tidal wave. Suck it up, for crying out loud. You’re almost certainly going to be OK. And in the unlikely event you’re not, do you really want to spend your last days cowering behind plastic sheets and duct tape? That’s not a life worth living, is it?”
Fear, Hickam says, is mostly a habit.
“The habit of fear and dread,” he writes, “can be compared to having a chronic disease. Some of us have gotten so used to having it, we don’t even know we’re infected. A symptom of this disease is that we walk around with slumped shoulders and drag one heavy foot after another. We dread getting out of bed in the morning, certain that only awful things are going to happen when we do. We never have anything good to say about anything, and that includes ourselves. We don’t like the way we look. We feel victimized. We’re envious of others and assume the world is filled with meanness. In fact, we think the world is a terrible place. We moan and groan. We eventually lose our family and friends. We become sorry sights and we don’t even know why. Worse, the disease we have is infectious. Innocent people we encounter are susceptible to catching fear and dread from us, including our children. We know something’s wrong, but we don’t know how to be cured.’
One way to rid yourself of this infection, says Hickam, is to “stand up straight and ….be proud of who you are.” To do that, he says, it’s necessary to know who you are, and how you’re connected to your family and your community. That involves talking to family members, to community members – and passing their stories on to your children and other family members. To be unafraid, you have to be connected to something larger than yourself, says Hickam.
The habit of fear and dread also causes timidity, says Hickam, a tendency to avoid confrontation, especially in defending our opinion. That one’s probably not quite as big an issue here for us – we have lots of opinions and fling them around easily here. But how about “out there”? “If you act as if what you think isn’t important, it’s the same as believing *you* aren’t important,” writes Hickam. “An attitude like that can squeeze the life right out of anybody.”
One of the best ways to overcome that aspect of fear and dread, he says, is “to take up for those who can’t take up for themselves.”
“There’s always someone who needs you help. How can you be afraid if you’re the protector of someone else in a dangerous world? Sometimes, just acting brave is enough to make you brave. “
But there’s more to it than just faking it till you make it. Hickam says you should also teach that person to stand up for himself, too, so that he can keep his dignity. Hickam cautions that standing up for what you believe “does not mean that every time you feel you’re being slighted, you should erupt with loud, hateful behavior. Standing up for what you believe has nothing to do with being violent or being obnoxious because of some perceived oppression. This attitude ahs to do with a quiet determination to have your opinion explained and heard. To be effective, it also has to be respectful and fair. … The most effective way of standing up is always going to be the nonviolent way, quiet but determined.”
Keeping our families together can actually be one of the harder tools for fearlessness, observes Hickam, but it’s a vital one. “An intact, functioning family works to not only provide a loving refuge, but also fills in the cracks of our own personalities. Where one family member is weak, another is strong. A cohesive group is always stronger than an individual, no matter how smart he is, or how many muscles he ahs or anything else. The family can be a shield against the world, and also the springboard to a better life.”
And finally, Hickam says trusting God but relying on yourself is a sure way to rise above fear. “The people of Coalwood were against calling on God any time they needed help,” he recalled. “For one thing, it was considered impolite. God had a lot of things to worry about after all, without including everything that got in the way of one particular human being. The way folks in the town saw it, God had already provided them with most of what they needed to get past a scrape, including their own good common sense.” Mostly, he said, they reserved their prayers for thanks.
While others often ponder why bad things happen to good people, Hickam ponders something he says as more amazing: “Why, in a universe and a world where everything must work hard to simply survive, did that which we think of as decent and fine get embedded into our souls? Why is that we crave goodness, seek out honesty and strive to be honorable, even when evil is so much easier? How is that evil, the desire to destroy and hurt others, hasn’t been the driving force in our species and our world and our universe? Some great goodness is out there, and it’s here, too. It is everywhere.”
We’re two parts, says Hickam, “one spiritual and the other physical. Both are important. The design of the human body and mind is evidence of that great truth. We have to trust in the spirit that is everywhere around us and in us. But we also must use our hands and minds to keep our families safe and build a better world.”
A world in which we are not afraid.
“We are not afraid.”
Say it slowly, and savor it, says Hickam, like we should savor the world and each moment. This sacred time of year honors the timeless changes of our lives, and offers us a rare opportunity to look death in the eye and give it a wink and a nod.
“There is no reason to fear life or dread what might be coming your way,” writes Hickam. “Every hour of every day, recall all the people who came before you, all those who make up who you are, and stand tall and be proud. No matter how perilous the times, they will always be with you…”
Bertrand Russell would agree. “We want to stand upon our own feet and look fair and square at the world,” he said. ” — its good facts, its bad facts, its beauties, and its ugliness; see the world as it is and be not afraid of it. Conquer the world by intelligence and not merely by being slavishly subdued by the terror that comes from it. …We ought to stand up and look the world frankly in the face. We ought to make the best we can of the world, and if it is not so good as we wish, after all it will still be better than what these others have made of it in all these ages. A good world needs knowledge, kindliness, and courage; it does not need a regretful hankering after the past or a fettering of the free intelligence by the words uttered long ago by ignorant men. It needs a fearless outlook and a free intelligence. It needs hope for the future, not looking back all the time toward a past that is dead, which we trust will be far surpassed by the future that our intelligence can create.”
As Samhain reminds us, death is not an end, but a transition, a time to look forward to new beginnings, when we will be born anew as the wheel of the year turns on and on.
And there is nothing to be afraid of.
By Guest Blogger:http://EzineArticles.com/?expert=Theresa_Willingham