The Fear of Living
According to the Chapman University Survey on American Fears, a corrupt government is now the number one fear for people in our country. Other top worrisome concerns for Americans include pollution, those close to them dying/getting sick and not having enough money.
In our modern turbulent world, it’s curious but perhaps not surprising that these new fears have replaced the more ‘traditional’ fears of dying and public speaking. We now fear the environment around us (both literally and figuratively) more than our own internal fears. We fear the economic environment, the ecological environment the political environment. In a telling sign of the times, five of the top ten fears are also now related to ecological issues like pollution and global warming.
For many years, the most common fears were “phobias” such as: social phobias (public speaking or going to parties), arachnophobia (spiders) arcophobia (heights), pteromerhanophobia (flying), claustrophobia (small confined spaces), ophidiophobia (snakes), trypanophobia (needles) and so on. And, of course, the grand daddy of all primal fears (death, or those closest to us dying).
While we still fear dying and losing those nearest to us, what we really seem to fear more than ever is living. It seems almost counter-intuitive, but many now fear living even more than dying. Considering the nature of things these days, this actually makes some sense.
Life in the year 2018 seems vastly uncertain, utterly confusing, and most of all, completely vulnerable. Attack of every sort seems imminent - cyber attack, data breaches, terrorism, civil unrest, environmental collapse, financial meltdown, pollution, identity theft, drought, fires, mass shootings, devastating floods and storms.
One could contend that our modern existence boils down to an obsessive state of worry and constant rumination about these disheartening dilemmas: How will we make a living? How will we pay our medical bills, how will we find clean water, how will our corrupt government protect us? Is it safe to go to church or the mall?
Moreover, the nature of our habitually plugged in lives perpetuates this never-ending cycle of doom and gloom. We seem to be in a hopeless and powerless state marked by environmental collapse, the erosion of jobs to machines, futile political polarization and gridlock, the decline of civil discourse and the epidemic of loneliness – Why should we fear flying and snakes, when life is this scary!?!
It’s enough to drive one to drink or look the other direction at something bright, shiny and pleasant. So, that is exactly what many of us do – we numb. We incessantly surf, scroll, browse, and shop. We text, Snapchat, and Tweet. We dull our pain and anxiety with booze and opiates. We watch TV, Netflix, Hulu, Amazon Prime. We travel or participate in ‘experience driven’ vacations to escape the busyness, boredom and fear of our ordinary lives. We brood over sports, scandal, and celebrity gossip. In short, we do anything to flee from reality because it’s just too damn scary and uncertain.
It’s a daunting task in this day and age to ponder the nature of the immense problems of living (let alone come up with possible solutions). It’s no wonder we’re driven to so much distraction. Regardless of whether our fear is living or dying, many react with the same mantra – “run like hell.”
Sometimes when I stop and think about the really good parts of being alive in this era, I can only come up with one thing - food. The food is really good. Craft food, farm to table restaurants, the organic movement, specialty food stores, authentic food trucks, what’s not to like? I can only imagine future conversations in Heaven or the next dimension with former relatives or those from other times:
Q: “So, what was life like back in the 2000’s?”
A: “Well, it was terrifying, but the food was excellent!”
Yeah, and at least the music was good on the Titanic, right? Indeed, it’s hard not to be a flippant skeptic in this day and age, and yet there is a way out of the despair and subsequent numbing. The recipe for curing hopelessness is love. Specifically, the love of one self.
Gandhi famously said: “You must be the change you wish to see in the world.”
In the book of Luke, Christ commanded: “The kingdom of God is within you.”
The Dalai Lama said that peace: “Starts within each one of us.”
The foundational element for a true peace of mind is love. Whether your peace means justice, bringing about the end of conflict, environmental harmony, freedom from worry over financial concerns, or the trials of health and happiness - Solving all these dilemmas starts within the confines of our own self-love. Whatever your belief construct is or whomever you pray to, the path to a fulfillment of peace is clear - The only way to calm the tumultuous waters that we are currently navigating collectively is for us to each seek inner peace and grace individually.
Like many these days, I too am worried about the future as I am worried about the now. But I have begun to see that my biggest personal task and contribution is to seek and forge my own path for peace. We must begin to see that the acute dilemmas of our time are exacerbated by the biggest trial of the day – distraction from our internal conflicts.
The real fear of living isn’t about external phobias, societal collapse or the threat of our own demise. Rather, the root of this fear is about the willingness to confront our own shadows of shame, trauma and guilt. The journey starts with the willingness to embrace both the sharpness of pain and dullness of stillness. As overwhelming as our current obstacles may seem, each one of us has a crystal clear path in solving the crisis of communal fear – facing our own.