It has spanned the length of history, and will no doubt reach into the future.
It has no preference for race or ethnicity and is not contained within a single region of the world.
It strikes both the old and the young, and everywhere in between.
It can come on suddenly or linger tirelessly throughout a lifetime.
Why is fear such a common experience among all people?
Take a look at what some well-known people and sources say about fear:
“The enemy is fear. We think it is hate; but, it is fear.”
Gandhi (Indian leader of independence)
“Fear is the main source of superstition, and one of the main sources of cruelty. To conquer fear is the beginning of wisdom.”
Bertrand Russell (British philosopher, writer, and activist)
“Fears are educated into us, and can, if we wish, be educated out.”
Karl Augustus Menninger (American psychiatrist)
“Avoid fear, too, although fear is really only a consequence of lies.”
Fyodor Dostoyevsky (Russian author, from his novel “The Brothers Karamazov”)
“Fear is only as deep as the mind allows.”
“Who sees all beings in his own self, and his own self in all beings, loses all fear.”
Isa Upanishad, Hindu Scripture
“The Lord is my light and my salvation; whom shall I fear?
The Lord is the stronghold of my life; of whom shall I be afraid?”
The Bible, Psalm 27:1
Fear is no stranger to me.
Throughout my life, I can point to many things that caused me fear. As a child, I was afraid of thunderstorms and spiders. As a teenager, my fears became socially focused: fear I would be picked last for the team, or fear that people wouldn’t like me (and maybe a fear of acne, too). As an adult… well, sometimes it feels like the list keeps getting longer:
Fear of failure
Fear of disappointing those whom I love
Fear of rejection
Fear of making a wrong decision
Fear of loneliness
Fear of getting hurt (or people I love getting hurt)
Fear of becoming ill (or people I love becoming ill)
… and those are just the ones I thought of in the last 30 seconds.
Can you relate to any of these? Do you have any of your own to add to the list?
Our unique life experience, as well as our cultural and family background, affects our outlook on fear. It can also influence fear itself. As international students, your set of fears will probably look a little different than mine, though there may easily be overlap.
For example, as an international student you may have a fear of making language mistakes, since you have to rely on your English in an academic setting. Perhaps you’re afraid of being judged because of where you’re from or what you believe. If you feel different from your peers, you may worry about what they think of you. Maybe you fear disappointing your family, who has placed their hopes and expectations on you and your success.
While it may seem easier to just ignore our fears or pretend we’re invincible, it’s important to be aware of our fears. Even if we hide our fear, it can still have power over us.
But I believe we don’t have to live this way. You may have noticed a similarity between the quotes at the beginning of this post. They don’t just comment on the existence of fear, but on some way OUT of fear. Each quote states or implies that there is another way to live: a life without fear.
Next week we will explore this topic further on our way to understanding how to conquer our fears.
How about you: what comes to mind when you hear the word “fear”?