What is the opposite of fear?

This week I went to a holiday open house at Orion Magazine. It was so much fun to celebrate the changing season with writers, artists and businesspeople who share the experience that nature has a lot to teach us about civilization. When I got home I snuggled into their November/December 2016 issue with a feeling of connection and community. This feeling of being seen made a quote that appears, all alone, on the back cover ring out like a church bell:

 

“The world is getting too small for both an US and a Them. Us and Them have become intertwined, fixed to one another. We have no separate fates, but are bound together in one. And our fear is the only thing capable of our undoing.” – Sam Killermann

 

A political climate that has devolved into nothing but Us vs. Them, has got me thinking. If fear is the only thing capable of our undoing, then its opposite might be capable of knitting us together. But, what is the opposite of fear?

The opposite of fear is acceptance.

Googling around this morning I found lots of plausible answers. Author C.M. Rayne, draws from her experience as a meditator to notice: “It was when I started meditating that I experienced first hand what the opposite of fear really was. While meditating, we allow every feeling, every thought that may arise in us in the present moment. We smile to them. We welcome them. We accept them.

“Fear takes a hold of us by making us believe that there actually is something to fear, that we are in some sort of danger. We fear the outcome of the future.

“But fear has no foothold if we accept what’s about to come. That’s how I realized that the opposite of fear is acceptance.

“When we accept the present moment as it is–together with our feelings and all–fear has nowhere left to stick its muddy feet. There is nothing left for us to fear anymore.

I get the zen pitch. It makes sense. But in this context – looking for the personal sensation that is capable of helping us all see each other more clearly, together – it seems a little entitled. People are freaking out. The foxes are entering the hen house. While I do hope we all end up on meditation cushions, I suspect that that’s going to happen after we’re all feeling a little more secure.

The opposite of fear is curiosity, or trust, or courage, or calmness…

This is fun. Try it yourself. Google “the opposite of fear”. There are lots of thoughtful people considering this powerful question. And as I read them a pattern emerged: however you name it, fear of each other is usually rooted in a lack of understanding about each other. When people know each other as people and not Them, fear tends to subside.

The question has been posted on Quora, and the first answer confidently states that: “Fear creates a strong biological compulsion to avoid the perceived source of the fear — whether it’s an object, person, situation, action, etc. The opposite of fear is an emotion that draws one towards these things. Therefore, the opposite of fear is curiosity.”

Yes, we’re getting closer. Curiosity about another implies a willingness to be empathetic. And, I’m just guessing that empathy for others is a central weft in the peace blanket we seek to weave.

Public speaking coach, Lisa Braithwaite, cites the greeting card ready slogan: “Everything you want is on the other side of fear”. In this context she names Trust as the opposite of fear.

Yes, closer still, but it leaves us asking “Trust in what?”. And please don’t start in with trust in the universe…

English-for-students.com lists antonyms for fear: Trust, Courage, Calmness and Equanimity.

We’re getting colder again. These words feel about as helpful as the British WWII morale poster that urged readers to Keep Calm and Carry On.

The opposite of fear is safety.

Then I stumbled upon the blog of an evangelical pastor who had an affair with his wife’s best friend and ever since has been preaching the gospel of forgiveness and redemption. His definition of the opposite of fear? Safety.

“Part of our passion is to change the culture of the church so that pastors, their wives and those of us who make up The Church feel safe:

Safe to be real
Safe to feel stressed out
Safe to be imperfect
Safe to admit marriage problems
Safe to not have all the answers
Safe to make parenting mistakes
Safe to not have it all together
Safe to admit failure, struggle, sin, addiction”

A Google hog pile can be confusing, but in this instance it is spot on. The opposite of fear is acceptance, which leads to curiosity, which leads to a sense of understanding, which leads to feelings of safety, trust, and finally, love.

And know what? I don’t personally care about the circumstances that led to Pastor Davis’s epiphany. But I think his insight is universal.

In order for us all to step away from the blame game that is isolating us with devastatingly polarizing roles, we need to first agree to an amnesty. Let’s start by agreeing that yes, as the patron saint of Woodstock Wavy Gravy says, we are all Bozos on this bus. We’ve all made mistakes. We all make mistakes. It’s part of being a biological being. We learn by making mistakes.

In order to learn from those mistakes we need a safe place, a safe environment where we can share our best sense of ourselves, without fear of ridicule or shame. Let’s stop blaming each other for mistakes we’ve made, and learn to be accountable to them instead.

If fear is the only thing capable of our undoing, then accepting each other, being curious about each other, knowing each other, recognizing common needs and desires, and most importantly, providing safety to each other, might be the only things capable of knitting us together in peace and prosperity.

And that’s where I want to be. Thanks for the party, Orion. I had a blast.

Comments

  1. MARA PORTER says:

    I found this by accident and I am so grateful that I did.

    I love this path of thought so very, very much.

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