There is a scientific rationale for why we fear. When a person encounters fearful stimuli, blood flow in their amygdala increases, leading to a “fight or flight” sensation and a heightened sense of fear.
That fear, however, is subjective, since one person can be terrified of snakes while another could be scared of shadows.
But there are certain things in life that are not meant to be feared.
Speaking in front of a small audience at the Commonwealth Club, international attorney and philosopher George Hammond argued that many of humanity’s greatest fears are irrational and can indeed be minimized with the proper understanding.
Hammond defines fear as “the emotion caused by the anticipation of unhappiness.” He uses this definition to argue that people can eliminate certain fears they have experienced at some point in their lives.
1. Fear of the truth: Hammond says that people are often scared of the truth — “otherwise we wouldn’t be so reliant on our imaginations.” He believes that everyone uses their imaginations to place themselves at the center of the universe when actually they are not. Being insignificant in the grand scheme of things frightens many people; Hammond believes that living in the moment brings about the most happiness.
2. Fear of a “Dark Lord”: Sauron, Darth Vader, Lord Voldemort, and Satan are all examples of “dark lords” that people are scared of. Why are we afraid? Hammond believes that “we are afraid [they] are going to be the winner in the game, which shows a lack of confidence in the other player…all the stories are the ‘dark lord’ going around gathering minions.” What this shows is that “dark lords” are weak and we shouldn’t give in to them at all.
3. Fear of death: This was the most morbid part of the entire evening, but it brought up a very spirited debate afterwards. Hammond believes that there are only two options when you die:
“One, is that you don’t exist. The other is that you still exist…If you really are dead when you’re dead, you cannot have any emotions, so you can’t possibly experience fear or unhappiness. Now, if death is not the end, and your mind is still there, then your mind is what one would expect to be what it was before you died.”
4. Fear of public opinion: It’s true that more people are afraid of public speaking than they are of dying. How do we minimize this fear? Hammond says that the trick is to accept the reality that everyone will “think about you, whatever they want.” When speaking in front of a large group of people, the goal is not to have the entire audience leave the speech believing in everything you say. Instead, speakers should make it a goal to have everyone in the audience leave with or one or two thoughts about the 15 interesting things that were presented.
5. “Witchy thinking”: These are anxiety-based fears, such as the fear of bugs, insects, lions, and things of that nature. Hammond says that “we react by trying to protect ourselves from those bad things.” What we end up doing is reinforcing our anxieties by constantly thinking negative thoughts and having positive things happen instead. Hammond argues that we should minimize our anxieties by realising that being anxious does more harm than good, not only to you but to others as well. He gave this example:
“If you’re alert and you’re not anxious, if anything does go wrong you’re in a much better position to do something if something does happen. It’s just debilitating to use up so much energy pretending that that’s going to make it work… If you happened to drive someplace to help somebody, and you’re really anxious, you’re not going to be as clear while you’re driving as to where you’re going, you might get lost…”
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