11/01/2008 05:12 am ET Updated Nov 17, 2011

Living With Meaning: The Fear Factor

The world is full of good deeds and the opportunity to do good deeds. When we don't do them, it's often out of fear. Fear of losing something: our status, our loved one, our job, our security, our sense of identity; our place in the world.

In my book, Prisoners of Our Thoughts, I discuss the issue of fear and how it prevents us from living and working with meaning--from reaching our highest potential. Among other references, I draw upon the lessons that can be learned from movies and, in particular, the slices of life that they represent.

For example, in the 1991 film, Defending Your Life, director/writer Albert Brooks plays Dan Miller, a successful business executive who takes delivery on a new BMW and plows it into a bus while trying to adjust the CD player. Dan finds himself dead, but awake, in a place called Judgment City, a heavenly way station that Roger Ebert, the film critic, described as "run along the lines that would be recommended by a good MBA program." And it is in Judgment City's courtroom where Dan must try to explain and defend his life, particularly those moments, shown on video, when fear was most evident in his thoughts and actions. Now consider the following dialogue that takes place between Dan and his defense attorney, Bob Diamond (played by actor, Rip Torn):

Bob Diamond: Being from earth as you are and using as little of your brain as you do, your life has pretty much been devoted to dealing with fear.

Dan Miller: It has?

Bob Diamond: Everybody on earth deals with fear. That's what little brains do.

Bob Diamond: Did you ever have friends whose stomachs hurt?

Dan Miller: Every one of them.

Bob Diamond: It's fear. Fear is like a giant fog. It sits on your brain and blocks everything. Real feeling, true happiness, real joy, they can't get through that fog. But you lift it and buddy you're in for the ride of your life.

Fear, in this context, is the metaphorical "fog" that blinds our search for meaning. It relates to our inability to actualize creative expression, to experience new situations and relationships with others, and to change our attitude toward something or someone. These things are all sources of authentic meaning, so isn't it a shame that we allow fear to prevent us from them?

With this thought in mind, let me assure you that courage (except perhaps what we might see in some other movies) is not the absence of fear but the willingness and ability to go through the fear--to tread, if you will, into the darkness of life's labyrinth of meaning. And it is during the worst of times, including inescapable hardship and suffering, that our courage is put to its greatest test. Over and over again, from those who have lost everything we learn that the worst of times is often the catalyst for the best of times.

Now let me ask, what do you think about the "fear factor" and how it directly and/or indirectly influences our lives, including our work lives? Has fear ever stopped you from saying, doing, or experiencing something, especially something that may have been important--and, yes, meaningful--to you? Have you ever asked yourself: "If only I had...?" What stopped you? Did fear have anything to do with it? I invite you to share your thoughts, opinions, and experiences. Importantly, let's not allow fear to prevent us from using this forum to learn from and support each other so that we may all live with meaning!


You can find out more about Dr. Alex Pattakos in his HuffPost Bio and at Contact Alex at: