“The Decade of Fear”: that’s the headline from Sunday’s Chronicle (December 20, 2009). Even the year 2000 itself was preceded by years of fear about the disasters that would befall us as our collective computers rolled over from a long-programmed 1999 to an un-programmed 2000.
While this particular calamity did not cause airplanes to fall out of the sky or computers to explode after all, we’d hardly had time to celebrate when the world really did change with the World Trade Center disasters of September 11, 2001. This ushered in the Decade of Fear now finally drawing to a close: fear of terrorism, economic collapse, foreclosures, unemployment, global warming, a deadly flu, and currently, a fear that the Recession/Depression will never end.
24-hour news of terror, horror, and scandal has not helped.
Whenever I hear Roosevelt’s well-worn admonition, “We have nothing to fear but fear itself,” I think to myself, It’s just not that simple, FDR. There are many very real things to fear. A certain amount of fear is normal; it’s part of being human. If we didn’t have it, we’d be walking into traffic and off cliffs. We’d be dead before nightfall.” Our human nature is, in part, based in fear for good reason: self-preservation and survival of the species. But normal fear is low-grade; it co-exists with a full spectrum of other emotions and states of mind. High-grade fear is predominant and contagious; it can lead to panic, paralysis, and/or foolish action of one kind or another.
Amazingly, inexplicably, our human nature also contains the capacity – not a proclivity – to love: people, ideas, activities, places, animals, things. Fear and love, both powerful, are opposites in almost every other way. While fear tends to seize the body and mind unexpectedly, love tends to emerge gradually. Loving eventually produces its own positive, creative, expansive energy, a feeling and mood that trumps just about everything else in human experience. Love is extraordinary, magical, mysterious, magnetic, divine; it is a YES; an urge merge.
Because they are such powerful emotions and forces, both love and fear require wise management. Fear is a robber baron; it can move right in and take over. In order to get a handle on it, we need to stop, take a deep breath, get the body moving, and shift the focus.
The very best way to shift the focus, although it is counter-intuitive, is to make yourself do something you love to do. This would be an activity you love that automatically produces positive energy and causes you to lose track of time and yourself. It might be might be listening to a certain kind of music, running, riding, reading, cooking, going to the seashore – whatever works. This is absolutely the best antidote for fear. You won’t trust me here; you have to try it yourself when the time comes.
Love, on the other hand, is more subtle; it takes time to grow and requires that you make room for it. Love can hit you like a ton of bricks, all right, but this is usually after some time has elapsed during which you barely noticed anything in particular was happening. Making room for love and taking time for it is one of the things the Christmas season is all about.
Whether you love or hate Christmas, whether you are a Christian or not, whether you believe in anything divine or not, don’t miss the symbolic nature of the season, which is also deeply rooted in our human nature. For centuries, it has been the tradition of human beings, during the coldest, darkest days of winter, to draw inward; to cling to the warmth of hearth and home; to reflect on the year and years past; to quell fears; to wait, to wonder, to make room for and take time to love; to look for light in the midst of the darkness; and, against all odds, to cultivate hope for a better future.
Be intentional. Meaning might not find you; you have to make it yourself.
Happy New Year!
Bonnie Bell, with husband Jim Bell, CFP®, owns and manages Bell Investment Advisors, Inc., 1111 Broadway, Suite 1630, in downtown Oakland. The firm has been providing personalized financial planning, investment management, and career and life planning services since 1991. www.bellinvest.com: 510-433-1066.
Published in Piedmont Post on December 30, 2009