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What are YOU afraid of? July 14, 2013

Posted by ourfriendben in wit and wisdom.
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Fear of loss. Fear of failure. Fear of pain. Generalized fears. Specific fears. Fears we acknowledge. Fears we suppress. Socially acceptable fears, and fears that make us the object of social ridicule.

In many ways, our lives are defined by our fears, and how we react to them. So our friend Ben was fascinated, but not at all surprised, to read the findings of a 2010 British study by Cancer Research UK that asked more than 2,000 adults to pick their greatest fear from the following list:

* Being in debt
* Developing Alzheimer’s
* Old age
* Being the victim of a knife attack
* Cancer
* Being in a plane crash
* Having a heart attack
* Being in a car accident
* Losing your job
* Losing your home
* Motor neurone [er, neuron?] disease

Unsurprisingly, as reported online in today’s Motley Fool column “What’s Your Biggest Fear? The Answer Might Scare You,” cancer ranked first, followed by Alzheimer’s. After all, nobody wants to be slowly eaten alive, while being tortured with a barrage of toxic chemicals and radiation, and nobody wants to lose their mind, memory, and personality.

Obviously, nobody wants to be the victim of violent crime or die in a crash, either. Our friend Ben thinks these didn’t make the top two because we feel that we have more control over our circumstances in those regards: We can avoid dangerous areas and late-night outings, we can drive defensively and soberly or take public transport, we can learn self-defense, we can refrain from flying in small private planes. Disaster may still overtake us, but not for want of trying.

Cancer and Alzheimer’s seem more a roll of the dice. While it’s been shown that a healthy lifestyle can prevent the onset of type II diabetes and heart disease, and even reverse them, a healthy lifestyle, though our best defense against both cancer and Alzheimer’s, is no guarantee. And feeling helpless is the very root cause of fear.

There are, obviously, a lot of options the researchers failed to put on their list. For example:

* Fear of losing a beloved spouse or partner
* Fear of losing a child
* Fear of never finding a life partner
* Fear of being thought ugly
* Fear of being thought stupid
* Fear of loneliness and isolation
* Fear of not living up to parents’/spouse’s/children’s/peers’/colleagues’/the public’s/you-name-it’s expectations

For anyone who truly loves, be it a spouse, partner, or child, the thought of losing that person to a car wreck, disease, suicide, freak accident, or whatever must surely be the greatest fear of all. We have a friend who has to drive long distances at night on major highways and becomes very drowsy. His partner lies awake until his return at one, two, three in the morning, praying that he returns unhurt, praying that he doesn’t fall asleep at the wheel and hurt someone else.

The survey also didn’t take into account compulsive fears: fear of abandonment, fear of crowds, fear of heights, claustrophobia, fear of spiders, fear of snakes, fear of mice, and on and on. For those of us who suffer from these compulsive fears, they are the most crippling of all. (Our friend Ben should know, fear of heights is my bane.)

After all, most people don’t go through their day thinking “Oh my God! I’m going to get cancer, I’m going to get cancer!” or “At any moment, my [perfectly healthy] partner is going to die!” They may worry about it, they may fear it, but it doesn’t creep up on them and ambush them at odd moments throughout the day, such as when they come upon an open stairwell or a precipice or a curve in the road that shows them a drop and a long view out.

This is the difference between crippling, compulsive fear, the “I’m going to be propelled over the edge to my death and there’s nothing I can do about it!” kind of fear, and fears that may never be realized but are certainly possible, even if unlikely. The compulsive fears give you acute adrenaline poisoning, the others are concerns—serious concerns—but aren’t life-controlling.

There are other kinds of fears, too: The fear of doing something so heinous that one lives on in infamy long after death. The fear of not accomplishing anything to help change the world, or humanity, or your community, or your chosen field, for the better. In past ages, certainly the fear of hellfire and damnation would have ranked first on the list for most people. Our friend Ben wonders how many, even today, fear an eternity in Hell. And how many fear simple personal extinction, not death per se, but the death of our personality, our awareness.

There are so many kinds of fear, and so many possible responses. What are you most afraid of?



1. Huma - July 15, 2013

To my mind there are gigantic overwhelming debilitating fears and then there are the garden variety ones which take nearly a life time to identify. These fears can be called discomforts about certain phenomenon as you live life. Filth and clutter, low grade confrontations, being misunderstood, not being regarded by others as a kind person and not being able to give solace to loved ones are some of them.

Excellent points, Huma! And of course, priorities change as our lives do. When my parents met, their fears probably revolved around not being able to achieve their dreams, as a famous, glamorous writer (my mother) and a famous architect and playwright (my father). When they married, their fears probably shifted to being able to pay the bills and provide a house and car (my father) and the children’s welfare (my mother). (I still remember my mother describing her grief and pain when we grew too old for her to be able to “make everything better.”) As he grew older, I know that my father, like so many in his age range, feared losing his mobility and mental agility and being confined to a nursing home for his final years more than anything else. (Fortunately, that didn’t happen.) Fears are fluid, fears are flexible; they change as we change and our priorities change, as long as they’re not compulsive.

Huma - July 16, 2013

Too true, my mother’s fears are about not being a burden and also being able to walk till the last days of her life.

But I am very very familiar with the sadness of not being able to make things better for our children—I don’t think that goes away. My mother feels it to this very day though she combats it with prayer.

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