Barefoot Corporate Warrior: Winter 2022
Paul Bird is afraid we need to talk about fear. Or rather the current abundance of it.
We seem to be suffering from an Aussie epidemic of fear which is having both expected and unexpected impacts. It is fat times in the business of fear. This herd fear, with its companions of cynicism and negativity, is causing me to be fearful about the health of our Australian psyche!
Maybe we have just passed the high (low) point of this fear wave with the recent Federal Election. Our robust, rumbunctious, noisy, messy little democracy has a habit of eloquently crystallizing and voicing our worst fears every three years as we get to the pointy end of voting.
Fear is a legitimate political tool designed to create leverage and move votes. It peaks (or troughs depending on how you view its use) every three years around elections.
The emotions stirred up during and after an election have reminded me that the ‘Great Fear’ triggered by the pandemic has not subsided at the same pace as the level of threat from the virus.
The question is: are we able to exert the same level of control over our national psyche as we mostly do over our individual mindset? Controlling, or at the least coming to a ceasefire with our fear, helps us live a full human life. Can the same can be said for an entire nation?
Or is wallowing in fear a new form of comfort food for the mind and community bonding i.e. the new norm?
I don’t want to downplay the extreme nature of events, both natural and man-made, which have plagued our planet and species in recent years; nor do I want to minimise the suffering that is happening to many people right now as a result of disease, poverty, climate change and war.
However, I do perceive that here in Australia, where we have been spared the worst ravages of the virus, and the relative safety of distance from recent and ongoing wars, we have allowed ourselves to succumb to a morose fear that is affecting our public discourse and interactions.
Disagree with me if you like but I perceive an underlying fear in the things people are saying, and thinking.
Living in fear as an individual is unpleasant. Living in fear as a community is unsettling and taken to its extreme… dangerous. Dictators know all about the power of fear – keep the people fearful and control comes easy.
As humans we are hard-wired for fear. It is a base survival instinct that has saved our species from sabre-toothed tigers and all manner of real and potential dangers since we descended from the trees millions of years ago.
It’s a useful human emotion; until it isn’t. The problem with fear is that it is based on an imagined future which may, or may not, ever happen.
It saps our confidence and brings us down towards more negative mindsets, robbing us of enjoyment in the present. It also leads to warped decision-making.
I have written about fear before but feel that the fear mentality which I perceive has taken root in our Aussie “herd” over the past two years is beginning to erode our national identity.
As we know, sustained fear can involve irrational thoughts which lead to poor decision-making and actions which may cause unnecessary suffering and regrets.
Fear and anticipation are intertwined in an endless symbiosis, conjuring imagery and emotion in advance of any real threat. The perception of threat is enough to set off fear.
Jerry Seinfeld once said:“According to most studies, people’s number one fear is public speaking; number two is death. Death is number two? Does that sound right? This means to the average person, if you go to a funeral, you’re better off in the casket than doing the eulogy.”
Our ultimate fear, of course is death.
I remember hearing that the thing about death which we really fear is the potential for suffering in the process of leaving life rather than death itself. If this is true then it demonstrates how adept we are at accepting the finite nature of our existence.
Stephen Covey’s book The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People introduces the concept of the two circles – the Circle of Concern and the the Circle of Influence.
Basically, there are many concerning issues and events in both the broader and closer worlds in which we live. And that’s okay. We are right to be concerned with those but if we have little or no influence on these issues and events then they can stay in the Circle of Concern. We can give them passing recognition, but to do more is a waste of energy which is draining and negative.
However, if there are issues and events which are in our Circle of Influence i.e. we have the potential to impact those matters, then by all means think about them and take action if required.
I have found this a useful little trick over the years to maintain some mental and emotional separation and distance from all the dramas unfolding around the world and to define what actually matters to me; to limit my energy to areas where I can do something rather than wasting time on things over which I have no influence or control.
We all have experienced fear when a genuine threat has occurred, whether physical or other. This reminds us to save our fear for the moment when it is really happening rather than what we imagine might happen.
As a nation I feel we have become too caught up in the imagined rather than the real and that the resulting fear has reminded us how little we have actually evolved over millennia.
Remember the French comic book characters, Asterix and Obelix who were fearsome fighters with superhuman strength courtesy of a magic potion produced by their druid Getafix?
They had only one fear: that the sky may fall on their heads tomorrow.
Sound familiar? I’m afraid so.