Dealing With Fear In An Age Of Terror
Fear is a natural response to danger. It heightens our anxiety and alertness; it winds us up in preparation for a run or some other movement that will put us out of danger. Fear is one of the many hard-wired emotions left to us by the process of evolution. And it serves a useful function: for if we remained indifferent to hazardous situations we would have never survived as a species.
The attacks in Paris last Friday hit close to home because they could have happened in any city in Europe or America. It was an attack on our way of life—which is a cliché but remains nevertheless the most fitting descriptor. We expect to carry out such routine acts as seeing a sporting event or going out with friends to a rock concert without being killed by mass murderers. We take for granted that the large and complex security apparatus we’ve built up over the years will keep us safe from such harm. But that is not the world we live in—and, truth be told, never has been.
No matter how many times you see a politician on television bloviating on how we as a people will not give into fear, deep down you know that things are not so simple. To be sure, you still have a greater chance of getting into a car accident or being struck by lightning than being the victim of a terrorist attack. However, these probabilities do not measure the significance to you of each of these potential events. The sense of danger that comes from terrorism is derived from the fact that you cannot protect yourself against it. When there is a thunderstorm, you stay indoors; when you drive your car, you wear your seatbelt and observe rules of the road. No such precautions can be taken when it comes to defending life and limb against a terrorist attack.
Responses to the fear felt by such danger can be divided into two categories: rational and irrational. The emotion of fear itself is irrational and, as I’ve already said, a natural instinct that you can do nothing about. You can, however, control how you conduct yourself when you feel it. Canceling trips to major cities or avoiding public places in which large groups of people gather is an irrational response to fear. Being cognizant of what’s around you and reporting anything suspicious to the authorities in the area is good practice.
The more insidious effect of fear is the potential it has for making you bitter, perhaps even hateful. Here is not the place to discuss the politics of religion or refugees. But whatever your position on these issues, you should ensure it does not result from an acquired fear of whole groups of people. Once you start down that road, there is no turning back. Allowing fear to change your character, to change who you are as a person, is an indication that you have been consumed by it. You may try to carry on as before with your friends, your career, and your love life but the transformation will be noticeable to all, and it will negatively impact your success in all three areas.
No girl wants to fuck an overly judgmental asshole, and your friends will not want to be around one. If you let fear get the better of you, you may well find yourself increasingly isolated and alone. Working with colleagues, many of whom will inevitably come from different racial and ethnic backgrounds, will also become more difficult; and you may soon find yourself derailed from what was once a promising path to professional achievement and success.
In this age of terror, it is important to be honest with yourself about your fears. That is a true test of manliness. A further test is resisting every impulse that would enable fear to change who you are. No emotion, no event, however terrible, should ever be allowed to do that.
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About Christopher Reid Chris was born in Washington, D.C. and lives in Britain. He works as a blogger, essayist, and novelist. His first book, Tea with Maureen, has just been published.