Fear—Friend or Foe?
“I think about how I want to die. I don’t want to get shot, but if I do, I want to get shot in the head right here, so I die instantly.”
A REPORTER for the Los Angeles Times heard that from a 14-year-old girl. He was interviewing students about recent killings—youths killing both adults and other youths. The report was entitled: “The World of Fear.”
You cannot fail to know that many live in a world of fear. Fear of what? It would be hard to single out any one fear. See if you can find in the adjacent box things that your friends or many people in your area fear. The box is from Newsweek of November 22, 1993, and it shows the results of a poll of “758 children between the ages of 10 and 17, along with their parents.”
If those youths were interviewed now, they might state added reasons for fear, such as earthquakes. Following the disastrous quake in Los Angeles in January 1994, Time reported: “Among the symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder are uncontrollable flashbacks, nightmares, hypervigilance and anger about the lack of control over one’s life.” A businessman who had decided to move from the area said: “The damage is nothing. It’s the scare. You go to bed downstairs with your shoes on. You don’t sleep. You just sit there waiting for it every night. It’s bad.”
“A String of Disasters Leaves Japanese on Edge” was the title given to an April 11, 1995, report from Tokyo. It said: “The nerve gas attack . . . was a particularly serious blow to the Japanese psyche because it came as part of a string of events that collectively created fundamental new uncertainties about the future. . . . People no longer feel safe in the streets that were once famed for their safety day or night.” And it is not just the elderly who fear. “Professor Ishikawa [of Seijo University] said the anxiety . . . was particularly pronounced among young people, who often have no clear image of what the future holds for them.”
Evidence suggests that an “instance of overwhelming terror can alter the chemistry of the brain, making people more sensitive to adrenaline surges even decades later.” Scientists are trying to understand how the brain interprets a fearful situation—how we size up details and respond with fear. Professor Joseph LeDoux wrote: “By uncovering the neural pathways through which a situation causes a creature to learn about fear, we hope to elucidate the general mechanisms of this form of memory.”
Most of us, though, are not so much interested in the chemical or neural basis for fear. We may realistically be more interested in the answers to such questions as, Why are we afraid? How should we respond? Is any fear good?
You probably would agree that sometimes fear can help you. For example, it is dark as you approach your house. The door is ajar, though you left it shut tight. Through the window you seem to see moving shadows. Quickly you tense, sensing that something is very wrong. Perhaps a thief or a knife-wielding intruder is inside.
Your instinctive fear of such situations could save you from blithely walking into a dangerous situation. Fear may help you take precautions or get assistance before you face possible harm. There are many such examples: a sign alerting you to high voltage; a radio announcement of a storm roaring down on your area; a piercing mechanical noise from your car as you are driving on a crowded road.
In some cases a sense of fear certainly can be a friend. It can help us to protect ourselves or to act wisely. You well know, though, that constant or intense fear is truly no friend. It is a foe. It can bring on shortness of breath, heart palpitations, faintness, trembling, nausea, and a sense of being detached from one’s surroundings.
You may find it most interesting that the Bible specified that our time would be marked by fearful developments on earth and by intense fear. How is that, and what bearing should it have on your life and thinking? Also, why can it be said that from the Biblical standpoint, there is a daily fear that is particularly helpful and good? Let us see.
[Box on page 3]
Asked what concerns them and their families most, adults and children say they fear:
56% Violent crime against family member 73%
53% An adult losing a job 60%
43% Not being able to afford food 47%
51% Not being able to afford a doctor 61%
47% Not being able to afford shelter 50%
38% Family member having drug problem 57%
38% Their family won’t stay together 33%
Source: Newsweek, November 22, 1993