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Friday, May 22, 2009

No Fear?

"No Fear" I've always disliked this logo/slogan/attitude/lifestyle. When I see someone display it proudly as a symbol of macho domination, I question the message. Why? I question whether the motivation behind the slogan is cockiness and intimidation, merely fashion consciousness, or a well-meaning phrase to elicit courage. Please, don't read wrong intentions in my attitude. I know some desperate times require fearlessness in the face of danger or in the defense of life and liberty. I totally agree that little or "no fear" may be required in certain situations. Yet, I think many misinterpret the message here and merely advertise their own personal macho "personas." (Latin for mask) “Fear is the most powerful emotion,” said University of California Los Angeles psychology professor Michael Fanselow. The normal response for dealing with a real threat is either flee or fight. Research shows the brain commands fear reactions, helping create stress hormones that shut down non-emergency functions of the body like immunity and digestion to help the body focus on fighting the perceived threat or running away from it. The assumption that fear is a learned avoidance reaction to potentially dangerous situations is gradually being questioned. Recent studies show that fear may be a genetically determined function of the nervous system. This view receives support form an evolutionary point of view. The ability to detect and anticipate dangerous situations seems to be crucial for survival, and individual learning might not be entirely quick enough to ensure survival chances. (Panksepp J. Affective Neuroscience: The Foundations of Human and Animal Emotions. New York, Oxford, 1998) If a group is portrayed as extremely heroic and another group portrayed as barbarian or inhuman, dehumanization is achieved through fear. This in turn leads to more mistreatment, as it is easier to abuse or hurt a group that has been dehumanized. A cycle develops--someone is hurt, resulting in fear and the demonization of the person or group that hurt them. This, in turn, makes it easier for future wrongdoing to occur. Consider the treatment of Jews by the Nazis. Hitler used fear tactics to control entire groups and to aid genocide. Or consider fearful pressure used by gangs to organize and to carry out violence. The abuse of power generates tremendous fear in many other similar situations. The moral: It's perfectly normal to fear purposeful violence from those who hate us. But with our emotions now calming a bit, perhaps it's time to check our fears against facts. "It's time to get back to life," said terror-victim widow Lisa Beamer before boarding the same flight her husband had taken on September 11th. To be prudent is to be mindful of the realities of how humans die. By so doing, we can take away the bully or the terrorists' most omnipresent weapon: exaggerated fear. Fear is useful while exaggerated fear is largely harmful to our peaceful existence. A "healthy" fear--or fear which has a protective function--can evolve into unhealthy or pathological fear, which can lead to exaggerated or violent behavior. Some researchers then advise, if the threat is not real, the best way to deal with fear is just the opposite: "Wait it out and chill." So, a person who fears too much, especially of unwarranted danger, can be dangerous. Student gunmen often use their perceived fears of popular peer groups to become mass murderers. Likewise, serial killers may develop unnatural fears and hatreds of groups like women to, somehow, justify their hideous crimes. It has been my experience that people who have been put in harm's way under deadly conditions confess to their fear and their God-granted grace to control their worst moments. Combat veterans, for example, readily admit tremendous fear under fire. To deny these feelings of fear, the veterans would be belittling the very real horrors of war. Most interestingly, many veterans of combat carry these fearful moments with them and are very reluctant to discuss them later, partly due to their respect of fallen comrades and partly due to some feelings of guilt for their fateful survival. To close, the Memorial Day weekend is a fitting time to think about our own fears and try to deal with its role in the lives of our loved ones. "No fear" as a statement of character may simply mean "be courageous." However, the most courageous people I have ever met, and fortunately gotten to know, have never once advertised their bravado. Largely, these heroes are a quiet, thankful group who both respect the values of fear and who have overcome the pitfalls of it. "If we take the generally accepted definition of bravery as a quality which knows no fear, I have never seen a brave man. All men are frightened. The more intelligent they are, the more they are frightened." --General George Smith Patton
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