"We Have Nothing to Fear but Fear Itself" was the topic of Tom Ashbrook's recent On Point NPR program, echoing FDR's famous words, "The only thing we have to fear is fear itself." Given the news of the day, I was intrigued by the topic and listened to the replay online.
Ashbrook interviewed Florence Williams, author of the November cover story for Outside Magazine: "The Secret Science of Fear: How to Thrive When Things Get Scary." Williams says "fear may be the oldest emotion," dating as far back as cave dwellers. In response to the news, she says, "Ebola isn't just contagious -- so is fear! And fear is more contagious than Ebola in the U.S. right now."
I recently got an email with a lengthy Q&A from our local pet clinic addressing whether the family dog or cat could catch or transmit Ebola. That sounded preposterous to me, but rampant fear will do funny things to the public discourse.
The idea of exciting fear where no present danger exists points to the power of suggestion, underscored by one caller into the NPR program who professed he got "sweaty palms" just by watching someone else do something fear-inducing, such as solo rock climbing.
Making a conscious choice about our reactions and perceptions has everything to do with guiding our thoughts in the right direction. "We can choose how we want to react," a big wave surfer from California told Ashbrook.
My daily spiritual discipline as a practitioner of Christian Science involves taking regular inventory of my thoughts and making sure to "master fear, not cultivate it" (Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures).
Here are a few solid ways to face down fear:
1. Stay centered and keep your feet on the ground. Fear tries to corner you and make you feel isolated and unprotected. Stay centered by taking time for quiet contemplation. I pray to feel the presence of the divine in my life. Prayer reminds me that I'm not alone and that there's always an answer, as this Psalm points out: "God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble."
2. Exercise reason not confusion. Don't give up your ability to think clearly and make calm decisions. Train yourself to notice when your thoughts start to go off kilter -- and then put them back on track.
3. Be a leader, not a follower. Instead of going with the crowd, be an example of fearless living. Think for yourself and chart the way for others to follow. Sometimes it's as simple as not joining conversations about hot-button issues that fuel fear and promote angst.
4. Choose good news over hype. Stay informed, but make conscious choices about the news you digest. Despite a media frenzy to focus on the dire, there's always a good story that puts things into right perspective. I like to read the regular "People Making a Difference" series in The Christian Science Monitor. It's a reminder that there are good people doing positive things to restore hope and joy in our global family. For instance, these recent headlines: "Why gangs are making sandwiches in New Zealand," and "How worker-owned co-ops lift people out of poverty."
5. Remind yourself how powerful love is. There's a German proverb that says, "Fear makes the wolf bigger than he is." Love turns the wolf into a lamb and love is the perfect antidote. The Scriptures say, "There is no fear in love; instead, perfect love drives out fear." It's hard to be afraid when your heart is full of love.