This is the full quote from FDR, in his first inaugural speech in March of 1933:
So, first of all, let me assert my firm belief that the only thing we have to fear is…fear itself — nameless, unreasoning, unjustified terror which paralyzes needed efforts to convert retreat into advance.
For the past year, especially during the pandemic, I have been sensing the huge rise in people’s anxiety. I’ve done a lot of reading, watching, talking to people, and listening. People have told me that the country is hopelessly divided. Others have pointed out that there is a lot of anger. There is certainly a lot of uncertainty. Some even feel that there is too much rage and hate.
What I feel is that there is too much fear, and not enough trust. What are people afraid of? Below is a partial list. Feel free to check off the ones you agree with, or the ones that get you angry. Please add the ones that I have missed. As I said, it’s a partial list.
People are afraid of change:
That the world is changing too fast
they won’t be able to work the technology
the technology will take their job
the technology will keep track of them
the technology is feeding them misinformation
CRISP-R will make super-humans
CRISP-R will make mutant soldiers
That there will be satellite warfare
That there are already too many genders
That there will be discrimination against people who don’t conform.
People are afraid there won’t be change:
That police will still shoot and kill too many Black people
restaurants will not get any support
people will disregard science
people will ignore how the planet is being destroyed
women will still not be paid as well as men
public education is failing half the population
people won’t take the vaccine
the rich will keep getting richer, and the poor, poorer
that you’ll go to jail if you steal $1000, but pay a fine if you steal $100M
People are afraid of their government:
That it will take away their freedom
it will take away their guns
won’t protect them from armed White Supremacists
it will make them have a baby
it will make them pay more in taxes
it won’t help them when they need it
all politicians are corrupt
the election was stolen
people tried to steal the election
the Democrats are Marxist
the Republicans are authoritarians
People are afraid of other people:
because they look different
because they think you look different
because you are rich and powerful
because you are poor and hungry
because you disagree with them
People are afraid
of getting sick
of getting old
of being alone
of not getting old
of catching the virus
of taking the vaccine
of running out of money
of breathing bad air
of being caught in a wildfire, tornado, hurricane, flood, etc
of not being able to afford medicine
that everyone is lying to them
that it has become impossible to know what is true
THAT NO ONE CARES!
I agree with FDR. We have to get beyond fear. We have to open channels for understanding and trust. We are so much better off than we were in 1933, and yet we are just as frightened.
Fear is a strong emotion. It makes everyone react, often quickly and intensely. You know, that fight or flight stuff. Those fast reactions save us from danger. But, when the danger really isn’t present, when there is no tiger coming through the window, we are left feeling confused and even more frightened.
Therefore, I am going to recommend what I have often said to my patients who were suffering with acute anxiety or panic attacks. Almost all of them had complex reasons for feeling so anxious, but they all had to learn ways to keep their emotions under control.
So, sit down. Take a couple of deep breathes. Now, do some cognitive/behavioral exercises. Can you clarify to yourself what makes you so afraid or so angry? Are you afraid of getting sick? Are you afraid of the government? Or has it all generalized and you’re just upset all the time?
Try and be more specific. Are the Proud Boys out to get you? Is Biden really going to nationalize the oil industry?
What can you do to feel safe? If you’re afraid of the virus, put on a mask, and stay away from people. If you’re uncomfortable being alone, reach out to someone else who probably feels the same way. If you are still furious at your father for voting for Trump, tell him you will still root for the Eagles with him.
Try and gain a little perspective. There are some folks out there who are in real danger. They don’t have enough money, or food, or they are about to get evicted. Those are real dangers. Those people need help.
But, for most of us, the world isn’t going to end right now, and probably not for at least six months. For most of us, it’s like the man said, it will only make things worse if we stay angry and frightened, especially when we will have to be the ones to solve the many problems that we face. Anger and blame don’t solve anything.
I don’t expect any Kumbaya, but I think we can all try for a little respect, a little calm, and perhaps the beginning of a reasonable discussion of how to pull America back together instead of splitting us all further apart.
Is that really so scary?