Giving in to fears can draw us toward chaos
“The only thing we have to fear is fear itself — nameless, unreasoning, unjustified terror which paralyzes needed efforts to convert retreat into advance …”
The words are those of President Franklin Delano Roosevelt in his 1932 inaugural address, and they are as true today as they were then, years before the Second World War, in times as perilous as ours today. I sometimes wonder what Roosevelt might have said if he knew what lay ahead, the march of Nazism across the European continent, the deaths of millions in their concentration camps, and eventually the entry of America into the conflict.
Roosevelt did not know what was going to happen and that is precisely why fear was “nameless, unreasoning, unjustified terror which paralyzes needed efforts to convert retreat into advance.” And, I believe, is the same reality which faces us today, fearing the unknown we cling to fake news from many sources, leaders who react emotionally rather than rationally, terror which tells us to expect the worst without dealing creatively with the present.
There is a great deal to scare us these days if we focus only on fear of the unknown. We do not know what will happen when two countries yell threats at one another, or when one country seeks to influence the elections of others, or when the gulf between the wealthy and the poor increases across the world. We become paralyzed, thinking problems so vast no one can solve them. It doesn’t help when we join the chorus of naysayers who want to tear down our constitution, degrade our institutions, and tell us they are our only hope.
Fearing the unknown, we retreat into our supposedly safe zones, thinking nothing can happen to us if we simply accept the ways things are. I often remember the words Bobby and John Kennedy used in speeches but from George Bernard Shaw: “You see things, and you say, ‘Why?’ But I dream things that never were, and I say. ‘Why not?’”
The unknown is not determined in advance. It is shaped by what we do today. There is not some force of history or nature that is chiseled in stone, never to be changed. What fear the unknown but the unknown is not here. We are incapacitated by fear itself, and it is often sown by those who wish to keep us in the control. They feed off fear to stay in power.
If the unknown had shaped early American history, driving people to accept their fears, there would have been no American republic.
And there may be no vibrant republic if we give into our fears and turn over our power to change the future to those who would change it to benefit themselves.
What kind of a country might result if we say no to the naysayers and yes to those who paint a different vision of who we might become, a nation where people are judged on the content of their character and not the color of their skin, where every person has an opportunity to fulfill a dream, where we seek to sow peace not war in the world, where our leaders represent the best of our creed, that every person has the right to” life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness?”
We are either going to be inspired by a dream or drawn into chaos by fear. Which path we take will shape who we become. The choice is ours.