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I realized the other day that I spend way too much time worrying about things and it occurred to me that one of the hallmarks of living in the modern world is that we are required to exist a large part of the time in a state of anxiety or even complete paranoia. Sadly, this unfortunate state of being has a tendency to color everything in our lives with a sickly shade of negativity.
Case in point, the current low price of gas. While filling up my car the other day (something I was not able to do for quite some time) I realized that my joy at the lower price of gas was severely mitigated by the absolute certainty that it would not last and the uncertainty of wondering how long it would be before I awoke to gas prices that had skyrocketed. It is rather difficult to enjoy the peace and quiet properly when you are waiting for the other shoe to drop. I thought that I might be alone in this kind of thinking, but after speaking with other people I discovered that I was not. Pretty much everyone I talked with was assuming that it was only a matter of time before the hammer would fall.
If you are living more or less on the edge you tend to worry about the basic things – paying the rent or mortgage, utilities, replacing things that break down. That's pretty much where I live. We all worry about our children, our families, the people we care about. Some people worry about their health, many more than they need to or should. I have no idea, but I suppose if you are filthy rich you might worry about whether or not you can buy that yacht you really want, or maybe you spend a lot of time anxious about suddenly finding yourself not filthy rich. On a wider level it is not completely unreasonable these days to worry about the weather doing something bizarre and horrible, like freak storms, hurricanes, tornadoes, tsunamis, earthquakes, or whatever. People who live in areas with serious and abundant crime probably worry about that a lot. I confess that I worry about what chemicals are being put in our food and in our air. I worry about the environment because I love nature and all things of the natural world. The thought of children and animals hungry or abused makes me sad and upset. To top it all off there is the ultra-modern threat of terrorism and acts of violence that appears to permeate everything from the press to Hollywood. There is a lot of that fear going around.
In truth, it can be said, without too much chance of contradiction, that as a species, we have always lived in fear and anxiety. In the old days it was pretty basic, how do I keep from starving or freezing to death or avoid being eaten by a saber tooth tiger. How do I avoid being slaughtered by the local war lord or enslaved by the local ruler? The business of survival was terror, and for some people, it still is. The rise of agriculture and civilization just made it worse. Crops can fail, diseases can spread, the greedy and powerful can at any moment make you into a pawn or a victim.
I realized at some point that a lot of avoiding fear involves understanding that as a species, we have turned it into a tool. From the dawn of civilization the powerful have used it to motivate, control, and oppress. Fear of punishment has always been a great motivator, not just for breaking rules, but on a grand, mythic scale. In the ancient world people were led to believe that the disasters inherent in the natural world were a kind of punishment. If you don't sacrifice regularly and give money to the temple of Poseidon you risk the possibility of causing an earthquake that will wipe out your entire village. If you behave badly your town might be destroyed by fire caused by some guy throwing a lightning bolt at you. If you offend the gods you might get too little rain or too much rain and your crops will all fail. If a bunch of guys are in control of the natural world it makes sense to fear them and to do whatever you are told to keep them happy. By extension, of course, that means also keeping the guys who told you what to do happy as well. Fear is power. Fear makes us obedient, acquiescent, vulnerable, and willing to accept things we might otherwise believe in our hearts is wrong.
Resisting fear is difficult. We are hoard wired to pay attention to it. Rejecting it is even harder. Refusing to live in fear is actually an act of courage and character. Refusing to allow anyone to use fear as a tool to manipulate you is often risky. Rule breaking is easy – any idiot can break a rule. Defying rules made by the powers that be that use fear to make you docile and amenable is another thing altogether. It takes being a little less human and a lot less afraid.
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