We have all heard the seemingly discriminating remarks that fear is normal and abnormal, and that normal fear is to be regarded as a friend, while abnormal fear should be destroyed as an enemy.
The fact is that no so-called normal fear can be named which has not been clearly absent in some people who have had every cause therefor. If you will run over human history in your mind, or look about yea in the present life, you will find here and there persons who, in situations or before objects which ought, as any fearful soul will insist, to inspire the feeling of at least normal self-protecting fear, are nevertheless wholly without the feeling.
They possess every feeling and thought demanded except fear. The idea of self-preservation is as strongly present as with the most abjectly timid or terrified, but fear they do not know. This fearless awareness of fear suggesting conditions may be due to several causes. It may result from constitutional make-up, or from long-continued training or habituation, or from religious ecstasy, or from a perfectly calm sense of spiritual selfhood which is unhurtable, or from the action of very exalted reason. Whatever the explanation, the fact remains the very causes which excite fear in most of us, merely appeal, with such people, if at all. to the instinct of self-preservation and to reason, the thought-element of the soul which makes for personal peace and wholeness.
Banish all fear.
It is on such considerations that I have come to hold that all real fear-feeling should and may be banished from our life and that what we call “normal fear” should be substituted in our language by “instinct” or by “reason,” the element of fear being dropped altogether.
These are the ways, then, in which any occasion for fear may be divided:
As a warning and as a maker of panic. But let us say that the warning should be understood as given to reason, that fear need not appear at all and that the panic is perfectly useless pain. With these discriminations in mind, we may now go on to a preliminary study of fear.
a preliminary study of fear.
Fear is (a) an impulse, (b) a habit, (c) a disease.
Fear, as it exists in man, is make-believe of sanity, a creature of the imagination, a state of insanity.
Furthermore, fear is, now of the nerves, now of the mind, now of the moral consciousness.
The division depends upon the point of view. What is commonly called normal fear should give place to reason, using the word to cover instinct as well as thought. From the correct point of view, all fear is evil so long as entertained.
Whatever its manifestations, wherever its apparent location, fear is a psychic state, of course, reacting upon the individual in several ways:
in a single impulse,
a chronic habit,
in a totally unbalanced condition.
The reaction has always a good intention, meaning, in each case, “Take care! Danger!” You will see that this is so if you will look for a moment at three comprehensive kinds of fear fear of self, fear for self, fear for others. Fear of self is indirectly fear for self danger. Fear for others signifies fore-sensed or fore-pictured distress to self because of anticipated misfortune to others. I often wonder whether, when we fear for others, it is distress to self or hurt to them that is most emphatically in our thought.
Fear, then, is usually regarded as the soul’s danger signal. But the true signal is an instinctive and thoughtful reason.
Even instinct and reason, acting as a warning, may perform their duty abnormally, or assume abnormal proportions. And then we have the feeling of fear. The normal warning is induced by actual danger apprehended by mind in a state of balance and self-control. The normal mind is always capable of such a warning.
I do not deny that the soul may cultivate a sublime sense of buoyancy and power;
rather do I urge you to seek that beautiful condition; but I hold that when a belief or a hallucination refuses to permit you to hear the warning of nerves and muscles, Nature will work disaster inevitably. Let us stand for the larger liberty which is joyously free to take advantage of everything Nature may offer for true well-being. There is partial liberty which tries to realize itself by denying various realities as real.
It is not liberty, it is not healthful, to declare, “There is no pain!”
Pain does exist, whatever you affirm, and your affirmation that it does not is proof that it does exist, for why (and how) declare the non-existence of that which actually is non-existent? But if you say, “As a matter of fact I have pain, but I am earnestly striving to ignore it and to cultivate thought-health so that the cause of the pain may be removed,” that is sane and beautiful.
I do not say there is no such thing as fear.
Fear does exist.
But it exists in your life by your permission only, not because it is needful as a warning against “evil.”
Fear is induced by unduly magnifying actual danger, or by conjuring up fictitious dangers through excessive and misdirected psychical reactions.