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Keeping Fear Alive

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I've long wondered when I'd find a kindred spirit who publicly recognized that a large swath of the American business and political landscape is based on leveraging fear. When I heard that the television satirist Stephen Colbert was planning a "Keep Fear Alive" march on Washington, I smiled a big one. On Mr. Colbert's web site it says "America, the Greatest Country God ever gave Man, was built on three bedrock principles: Freedom. Liberty. And Fear -- that someone might take our Freedom and Liberty. But now, there are dark, optimistic forces trying to take away our Fear -- forces with salt and pepper hair and way more Emmys than they need. They want to replace our Fear with reason."

The Stephen Colbert "fear" event is sort of a companion event to one being staged by his friend Jon Stewart who also has a show on Comedy Central. Stewart's rally is supposedly to help restore sanity in Washington and around the country. Though both of these gatherings are being played for humor, there must be truth in their foundations because it seems they have touched one of American's bare nerves. Oprah Winfrey had Stewart on her program this week and offered to pay for his studio audience to get to Washington for the rally. Last evening I was in the audience for an Arianna Huffington event in Los Angeles where she offered to help with the "Sanity" rally. Entrepreneurial thinking meets opportunity and media! That is a potent combination.

As an example of how pervasive the word fear has become in our daily lives, on the front page of a recent edition of the (10/11) Los Angeles times, two story headings caught my attention. One said "Cost Fears Cited in Fire Delay" and the other screamed "Fear and mistrust rule in high-stakes Iraqi politics." If public fears could be measured on the Richter scale, I'd say we are rumbling at 6.9 and headed higher. Think about it. We are fearful of looking people in the eye on the street and afraid to touch the door handle at a public toilet. Fear is sold to us on a daily basis like headache remedies. Where would the newspaper, insurance and alarm company businesses, not to mention the local TV news business be without packaging and selling a daily dose of needless fear?

Do we have to live lives swathed in fear? I don't believe so. One of the reasons I love spending time with entrepreneurs and business owners is that they live in a world of possibilities and dreams. Whatever role fear plays in that universe, it is very small. For someone running an enterprise, fear is something to be managed, stripped of its fangs and quickly discarded. Sometimes I think the men and women who are hustling to build an enterprise are the only ones who've reaped the wisdom of the many wise men and mystics who have shared a simple common philosophy. They all in varying ways wrote that "You become what you think about." I accept that as true which means that I have to work hard at marginalizing thoughts based in fear and doubt. In my own life as a business owner I've learned that fear can bring about a state of paralysis leading directly to failure. Inspirational speaker Dennis Waitley wrote "Procrastination is the fear of success. People procrastinate because they are afraid of the success they know will result if they move ahead now. Because success can be heavy, carries a responsibility with it, it is much easier to procrastinate and live on the 'someday' philosophy."

It is simply fabulous that we can control our thinking, our attitude and what we welcome into our mind, kicking fear to the curb. Yesterday I had lunch with a business owner in Los Angeles who is reorienting his business to represent a particular solar energy product. He said that during this time of diminished income, hard work and stress he has simply stopped allowing fear and negativity into his world. Neither of those emotions can help convert his dreams into reality. He has banished the local TV news and spending time with complainers. Another friend who owns a post-production audio business in California recently told me that he'd had trouble sleeping for a couple of weeks due to business challenges. When I asked what he feared, the reply was that he'd moved past the fear of surviving by focusing only on how to land one of the largest accounts in the recent history of his business. Thinking strongly about what he really wanted, supported by smart work resulted in getting a big piece of business and coincidentally ensuring that seven people still had their jobs! If you are looking for real change (Thank you Mr. President) in your life you have to let go of the fear.

As a populace I think we are behaving so badly toward each other these days because we are feeling insecure, rudderless and fearful much of the time. In Frank Herbert's Science Fiction epic, Dune he had the character Bene Gesserit talk about fear. "I must not fear. Fear is the mind-killer. Fear is the little-death that brings total obliteration. I will face my fear. I will permit it to pass over me and through me. And when it has gone past I will turn the inner eye to see its path. Where the fear has gone there will be nothing. Only I will remain."

"The only thing we have to fear is fear itself" is probably the most repeated line from the 1933 inaugural speech of President Franklin D. Roosevelt. It was delivered in the heart of what we call the great depression when he replaced Herbert Hoover who'd been given credit for the decimated economic landscape. Who were the first people to heed the president's advice regarding fear? Entrepreneurs and business people from Main Street to Wall Street lead what would become our country's greatest period of prosperity in the 20th century. So I hope that the co-joined "Rally to Restore Sanity" and the "March to Keep Fear Alive" result in banishing fear from a sane nation!