The Sum Of All Fears


HENRYLITO D. TACIO

Mr. Tacio, who hails from Davao, is a correspondent of the Asian edition of Reader’s Digest. He is the first and only Filipino journalist to have been elevated to the Hall of Fame in science reporting by the Philippine Press Institute. In 1999, the Rotary Club of Manila bestowed him the Journalist of the Year award. He is also East Asia’s contributing editor of the People & the Planet based in London.

For comments, henrytacio@gmail.com


When we discuss fear, I am reminded of the words of Hollywood director Alfred Hitchcock: “Fear isn’t so difficult to understand. After all, weren’t we all frightened as children? Nothing has changed since Little Red Riding Hood faced the big bad wolf. What frightens us today is exactly the same sort of thing that frightened us yesterday. It’s just a different wolf. This fright complex is rooted in every individual.”

“Fear is the most destructive force in the world today,” says Walter Stone, a noted Australian book publisher. “There is perhaps nothing so bad and so dangerous in life as fear,” added Jawaharlal Nehru, the first prime minister of India.

A person in fear does not think and act normally. That is the reason why if you are in danger, you don’t know what to do. You cannot think what normal people do. Ever wonder why in horror movies, victims forget to close the doors, shout to their heart’s content, run as fast they can without any direction and, in some instances, jump to death?

There are fears that are considered aberrant. Psychiatrists call them as phobia. It is defined as “intense and persistent fear of a specific object, situation, or activity.” Because of this intense and persistent fear, the phobic person often leads a constricted life. The anxiety is typically out of proportion to the real situation, and the victim is fully aware that the fear is irrational.

It begins in your mind, always… so you must fight hard to express it, you must fight hard to shine the light of words upon it. Because if you don’t, if your fear becomes a wordless darkness that you avoid, perhaps even manage to forget, you open yourself to further attacks of fear because you never truly fought the opponent who defeated you. -Yann Martel in Life of Pi

Twenty-year-old Rodel is so afraid of snakes that he once stapled together pages in a textbook to avoid flipping to a photo of a snake. He often wakes with nightmares that he is sitting in a bar or a stadium and suddenly sees a snake slithering toward him. “It’s odd,” he admits, “because I’m not in situations where I would ever see snakes.”

The Sum Of All Fears 2There is a word – a decidedly straightforward one – for Rodel’s very extreme condition: ophidiphobia, or a morbid fear of snakes. Phobias go back a long way. Take this account of one phobia, written by a famous physician. “The girl flute player would frighten him; as soon as he heard the first note of the flute at a banquet, he would be beset by terror.” Fear of flute is called aulophobia, and the doctor describing the condition was Hippocrates.

People fear because it is often equated with danger, imminent pain, or death. Gavin Becker, author of The Gift of Fear: Survival Signals That Protect Us From Violence, pointed out: “When we get a fear signal, our intuition has already made many connections. When you feel fear, try to ‘link’ it back to a past situation where the feeling that was similar to see if your fear is, in fact, justified.”

When you feel it, take notice to find the link back to see if you need to take action. How rational are our fears? In the 1960s, an American study was done on what single word evoked the greatest psychologically strong reactions of fear. The study included words like spider, snake, death, rape, murder and incest. Shark evoked the strongest reaction.

Why? After all, sharks rarely come in contact with human beings. Experts found out three reasons: the seeming randomness of their strike, the lack of warning for it and the apparent lack of remorse. Are you still wondering why many people didn’t go swimming in the beach after the blockbuster movie, ‘Jaws,’ was shown?

Yann Martel in Life of Pi wrote: “I must say a word about fear. It is life’s only true opponent. Only fear can defeat life. It is a clever, treacherous adversary, how well I know. It has no decency, respects no law or convention, shows no mercy. It goes for your weakest spot, which it finds with unnerving ease.

“It begins in your mind, always… so you must fight hard to express it,” Martel continued. “You must fight hard to shine the light of words upon it. Because if you don’t, if your fear becomes a wordless darkness that you avoid, perhaps even manage to forget, you open yourself to further attacks of fear because you never truly fought the opponent who defeated you.”

But such is the reality of fear, according to one sage. Actually, we are not scared of the dark; we’re scared of what’s in it. We are not scared of heights; we are afraid of falling. We are not afraid of the people around us; we are afraid of rejection. We are not afraid to love; we are afraid of being loved back. We are not afraid to let go; we’re just afraid that someone is really gone. We are not afraid to try again; we are just afraid of getting hurt for the same reason.

British singer John Lennon once said: “There are two basic motivating forces: fear and love. When we are afraid, we pull back from life. When we are in love, we open to all that life has to offer with passion, excitement and acceptance. We need to learn to love ourselves first, in all our glory and our imperfection. If we cannot love ourselves, we cannot fully open to our ability to love others or our potential to create. Evolution and all hopes for a better world rest in the fearlessness and open-hearted vision of people who embrace life.”

Frank Herbert, author of Dune, sees fear differently. “I must not fear. Fear is the mind-killer,” he wrote. “Fear is the little-death that brings total obliteration. I will face my fear. I will permit it to pass over me and through me. And when it has gone past I will turn the inner eye to see its path. Where the fear has gone, there will be nothing. Only I will remain.”

Just remember this: fear has two meanings. For one, it means “forget everything and run.” For another, it means “face everything and rise.”

The choice is yours!