Fear Itself


“The only thing we have to fear is fear itself.” Franklin D. Roosevelt 

I love this quote. I mean, I REALLY love this quote because it reaches far beyond the platitudes you find on posters with eagles on a mountain top or well-manicured office types high-fiving each other in perfect lighting (and really, who sees one of those posters and does anything other than an eye roll?).

I love it because it sums the human psyche up in one succinct sentence: what we fear is fear. That’s it. There is no bogeyman other than what our mind has conjured. Fear is not a tangible thing – it’s a feeling. Nothing more than feelings. And last time I checked, feelings can be hurt but they can’t cause bodily injury.

Since the time our ancestors had a functioning brain, humankind has been hardwired to be afraid. This fight or flight response has kept our species from being eaten by alligators, or bears, or Tyrannosaurus Rex (OK, kidding about that last one) and considering we’ve lasted this long, it’s worked pretty well. Flash forward a few millennia – the biggest threat to our existence now is largely our own stupidity (looking at you, texting and driving), yet we are still programmed to be afraid. From helicopter parents freaking out Johnny might fall off the monkey bars to convincing yourself you’ve contracted (insert latest health hazard from the news), everyone is terrified.

Terrified to ask for a raise… because your boss might say “no”.

Terrified to ask that cute girl out… because she might reject you.

Terrified to leave an abusive relationship… because you don’t know where to go for safe haven.

Terrified to travel… because there might be a terrorist attack.

Terrified that some SOMETHING catastrophic is going to befall you.

Fear is that little voice,  incessantly whispering dark thoughts and doubts into your ear like an annoying mosquito at 3AM that no matter how many times you swat yourself in the head, it’s still there, buzz buzz buzzing until you think you’ll go mad. It’s the little voice paralyzing you into terrified silence as it  drips acid onto your dreams, delighting as they sizzle away into the void.

So we stay “safe”, shunting our dreams aside. We stay ‘safe’ by not taking a risk or stepping outside of the neat boxes our lives are organized in. We stay ‘safe’ by never really doing what we truly want to do. Our dreams, like neglected flowers on a vine, wither and die.

By staying safe, we never really live.

When FDR gave his famous speech in 1932, the USA was at the depth of the Great Depression. He didn’t trot out banalities or truisms to make people feel better. Rather, he got to the heart of the matter that yes, life sucks right now but it’s nothing that can’t be overcome.

First of all, let me assert my firm belief that the only thing we have to fear is fear itself-nameless, unreasoning, unjustified terror which paralyzes needed efforts to convert retreat into advance. 

He may have said these words over 80 years ago but they still ring true today. Fear paralyzes us from moving forward. Fear causes us to stay stuck. Fear screws up our lives.

FDR’s words gave the country the hope and strength to overcome its darkest days, which lead to the most prosperous decades the USA has ever known, the halcyon years when the entire world turned its weary eyes to the Home of the Brave to be amazed by the vigor, the can-do attitude, the sheer audacity of believing anything was possible. A man on the moon? Boom. Done. What’s next.

From fear to fearless.

Fear is unreasonable and it’s unjustified. It’s nothing more than the outdated program in our brains looking for a thrill. Your brain wants excitement? Go on a roller coaster or watch a scary movie but don’t let your brain cripple your heart.  Tell that voice of fear to shut. the. hell. up.

Ask for the raise…because they could say no but they could very well say yes.

Ask the girl out…because she could laugh and politely say no or she could end up being your soul mate.

Pack up and leave the jerk…because there are friends, family, social services out there to help you start a new, happier chapter in your life.

Get on the plane and explore new places…because there’s more chance of choking to death on a creamy gelato in Rome than being caught up in extremists’ diabolical plans for world domination.

Go. Do. Live.

Outsmart that brain, look at your fear and laugh in its face. After all, what do you really have to fear other than fear itself?





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