It was Franklin Delano Roosevelt who said, in his first inaugural address, that “the only thing we have to fear …is fear itself.”
The year was 1932. The country was in bad shape economically, and by 1933, the depth of the depression had hit head on. People were deathly afraid, and Roosevelt not only knew it, but he knew times would get worse before they got better. The things they worried about most, he said, were “only material things.” Said he, in that inaugural speech: “In such a spirit on my part and on yours we face our common difficulties. They concern, thank God, only material things. Values have shrunken to fantastic levels; taxes have risen; our ability to pay has fallen; government of all kinds is faced by serious curtailment of income; the means of exchange are frozen in the currents of trade; the withered leaves of industrial enterprise lie on every side; farmers find no markets for their produce; the savings of many years in thousands of families are gone.”
He said that “happiness (didn’t lie) in the mere possession of money; it lies in the joy of achievement, the thrill of creative effort.”
Those were powerful words, a balm to the anguished citizens of the United States who were facing a horrible reality. A new normal. It was scary because all that Americans had come to know and love as “American” was being challenged and changed before their eyes…and they could not see where the changes would lead. Would they have their homes? Would they have a job? What would they eat? How would they eat? When was the nightmare going to end? FDR’s words were powerfully comforting, words I’m sure some people came back to again and again.
There is a lot of fear swirling around now. Hurricane Sandy has thrown people into pits of despair. The economy has had people carrying fear around like a heavy suitcase. Some people are afraid for the country if President Barack Obama wins, and others are terrified for the country if Gov. Romney wins. There is no peace in the land right now.
Why? Because the disease of fear is stalking. It is stalking our country, it is stalking individuals, and it is stalking with a sense of arrogance. Fear relies on control, and it manipulates people to much that they acquiesce and give in to being controlled. Joan Chittister‘s book, Scarred by Struggle, Transformed by Hope talks in depth about fear. She says that “fear paralyzes a person,” and keeps people from doing things they know they should do. It makes them afraid to even try, and in so doing, lose their peace of mind. Chittister says we as humans must ask ourselves, “What am I willing to lose in order to have peace of mind and integrity of soul?” She says that it’s “not the grappling with a thing that defeats us; it is the unknown answers to hidden questions that wear us down.”
Fear, she says, “cripples us more than any disease ever could. It takes eminent good sense and turns it to gelatin.” Finally, she says “oppressors do not get to be oppressors in a single sweep. They manage it, because little by little, we make them that. We overlook too much in the beginning and wonder why we lose control in the end.”
I wonder what the world would be like if people were not so susceptible to fear. I remember a friend of mine in seminary, who said that his father hated racism but was afraid to speak out about it because he was afraid his church would fire him. I think how people have been intimidated into not speaking up when they’ve known they should, because they were afraid of the consequences. I am sure that, in light of Hurricane Sandy, there are some people who know that there are some predatory companies out, ready to suck the life blood out of vulnerable people, but will not say anything because they are afraid. I think much of the police brutality we hear about comes about because white officers are afraid of African-American males, not because the police officers are bad people. Young women who get caught up in life on the streets stay there far longer than they want because they are afraid of the pimps who initially lured them into “the life” with material things and the young girls translated “gift-giving” with love. Some people honestly think that the Palestinians are getting a raw deal in Israel, but they are afraid to say anything for fear of being called anti-Semitic.We have all heard stories about neighbors who suspected that a wife or children were being abused, but didn’t say anything because they were afraid. We have probably all seen something that we knew was wrong but have been afraid to say something because we don’t know what our “courage” will mean for our lives Fear is like a mean overseer, stalking lives and countries and situations with a huge whip.
We are afraid of bettering ourselves, stepping out of comfort zones into an “unknown” and so we stay in situations that stunt our growth. We are afraid to move and afraid to stand still. It is no wonder that Thoreau said that many of us live “lives of quiet desperation.”
Chittister says that “moral maturity requires us to choose truth over self-preservation, whatever the cost.” If we do not do that, as individuals or as communities, oppression and injustice gets to run its course, unopposed.
That’s what fear expects us to do: cower so that injustice can have its way. Sadly, fear is way too often the driver of the car, and it spreads its toxicity everywhere. Fear moves faith and hope out of the way. Fear will account for a lot of people making bad decisions in difficult times; it will add misery to people who are miserable enough.
At the end of the day, we have to decide whether we want to fuel fear and watch it metastasize throughout our spirits, robbing us of opportunities to be free, or if we finally want to face our Goliaths…whatever the cost.
Too often we leave Goliath standing upright, laughing at us.
But as long as Goliath stands, we cannot be free. And …we were made to be free.
A candid observation…
4 thoughts on “The Disease Called Fear”
Your post always seem to speak to me…Thank you so much!
Thank you for reading my work!
I agree that fear is most certainly like a disease or plague, because I think everyone experiences it. Who knows, maybe it is because we just don’t know our true courage. But there are some sacrifices that you have to make in speaking out, especially against major injustices that people are just not willing to make. I can’t say I blame them, because they are rarely easy decisions. But of course, if we had less people plagued by fear, we could have mass change.
You are so telling the truth. Courage costs …
Thank you for sharing.