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12 January 2008

F is for fear


Perhaps the most important thing we can undertake toward the reduction of fear is to make it easier for people to accept themselves, to like themselves. –Bonaro W. Overstreet

In 2008, I will recognize how my fear translates into the world though my actions.

I believe much of the pain, war, anger, dysfunction, and hurt in the world can be traced directly to fear. I fear you won’t love me, so I hurt you before you can hurt me. We fear They will try to change Us, so we bomb them. I fear you will laugh at me so I laugh at you first. I feel self conscious so I make fun of you.

A friend read this haunting poem aloud to a group of women I wrote with on Thursday. I realized in the hearing how perfectly it illustrates the impact of fear on our actions and—by extension—on others.

The Swimming Pool

All around the apt. swimming pool
the boys stare at the girls
and the girls look everywhere but the opposite
or down or up. It is
as it was a thousand years ago: the fat
boy has it hardest, he
takes the sneers,
prefers the winter so he can wear
his heavy pants and sweater.
Today, he's here with the others.
Better they are cruel to him in his presence
than out. Of the five here now (three boys,
two girls) one is fat, three cruel,
and one, a girl, wavers to the side,
all the world tearing at her.
As yet she has no breasts
(her friend does) and were it not
for the forlorn fat boy whom she joins
in taunting, she could not bear her terror,
which is the terror
of being him. Does it make her happy
that she has no need, right now, of ingratiation,
of acting fool to salve
her loneliness? She doesn't seem
so happy. She is like
the lower middle class, that fatal group
handed crumbs so they can drop a few
down lower, to the poor, so they won't kill
the rich. All around
the apt. swimming pool
there is what's everywhere: forsakenness
and fear, a disdain for those beneath us
rather than a rage
against the ones above: the exploiters,
the oblivious and unabashedly cruel.

"The Swimming Pool," by Thomas Lux from New & Selected Poems (Houghton Mifflin).

Intentions: Where I feel anger, hysteria, hatred, laughter at, I will look deeper beneath those feelings to uncover the fear that grounds them.

From the last alphabet challenge: F is for Fucchi


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Yes, You are so right...

Fear has made me weak, has made me less than I knew I should be, has strangled my heart.

Thanks for the poem... it reminds me so much of one of my favorite Wendell Berry poems (below).


Do Not Be Ashamed

You will be walking some night
in the comfortable dark of your yard
and suddenly a great light will shine
round about you, and behind you
will be a wall you never saw before.
It will be clear to you suddenly
that you were about to escape,
and that you are guilty: you misread
the complex instructions, you are not
a member, you lost your card
or never had one. And you will know
that they have been there all along,
their eyes on your letters and books,
their hands in your pockets,
their ears wired to your bed.
Though you have done nothing shameful,
they will want you to be ashamed.
They will want you to kneel and weep
and say you should have been like them.
And once you say you are ashamed,
reading the page they hold out to you,
then such light as you have made
in your history will leave you.
They will no longer need to pursue you.
You will pursue them, begging forgiveness.
They will not forgive you.
There is no power against them.
It is only candor that is aloof from them,
only an inward clarity, unashamed,
that they cannot reach. Be ready.
When their light has picked you out
and their questions are asked, say to them:
“I am not ashamed.” A sure horizon
will come around you. The heron will begin
his evening flight from the hilltop.

- Wendell Berry

Great thoughts. I particularly like the lines of the poem:

the lower middle class, that fatal group
handed crumbs so they can drop a few
down lower, to the poor, so they won't kill
the rich.

These lines remind me of this quote:

“When I give food to the poor, they call me a saint. When I ask why the poor have no food, they call me a communist.” - Helder Camara, Archbishop of Olinda and Recife, Brazil (1909-1999)

Sometimes I try to think of fear as loses its power and cockiness when I start calling it something that sounds like the name of a character on a soap. Since you'd already been given a Roar award (and who writes more powerful words than YOU?), I gave you a "You Make My Day" award. I think my heart actually skips a beat when I see your feed in my Bloglines. ;) xoxo

This post couldn't have come at a better time. Last night I had a realization about fear, and how it was holding me back from deepening a friendship with someone I hold at arm's length. I was hurting her out of fear -completely unconsciously - by distancing myself. I agree with your thoughts on the whys of our dysfunctional society, and I agree that fear is at the root of it. It's so human to act out of fear - but it is a testament to the work we do on ourselves when we over come it and act out of compassion or love or our will instead.

As always, your post made my day. Thanks!


As a counsellor educator I used to teach my students the best way to overcome a fear was to accept and experience the fear while also feeling safe.

So I would say not only accept themselves but also accept the fear. Too many people believe if they accept it they will never overcome it yet I think when we make friends (another f word) with fear it loses a bunch of the power it has over us.


I love the Overstreet quote, as one of the most basic fears seems to be the fear of being found out.

A friend of mine called me many years ago, and I did not recognize his voice as he said, "We know what you have been doing, and you are really in trouble now."

I was scared to death, and I had not done a doggoned thing to fear being discovered doing!

Learning to face this deep-seated fear, "what of everyone finds out I'm an impostor? I really don't know why they pay me at work, or why my friends like me, or why my family tolerates me..." is exactly all about learning to accept who you are.

If you accept and like yourself, the irrational fears have no place to nest and fester, waiting quietly for the moment when you are weakest to rear up and take over.

Fear is such an odd beast, as it has no standing whatsoever beyond what we allow it. Yet, it can rule our lives for years if we fail to realize that we can simply turn and face it, walk through it, and know it was, quite literally, nothing to worry about.

Once we stop fearing our own deep insecurity, we are also freed of the fear of Others Who Are Different...because we will know that they really are not nearly as different as we feared.

So very true.

In the past I always found it a real challenge to deal with my fears.

Now I have found that helping my two children through their teenage years (teaching them not to be ashamed) has led to many reflections back to my vulnerable teenage years.

I am now able to better analyze my fears for what they are, deal with them and get on with life.

Thanks for your post,


I am catching up on reading your posts, Patti. Wow. You've hit some mighty powerful letters of the alphabet. Several really need mulling over while I listen to my heart and soul react. Listening may even be painful, but definitely a learning experience.

As for this one, I immediately thought of Thich Nhat Hanh's "Peace Is Every Step: The Path of Mindfulness in Everyday Life". He talks about dealing with fear in a very beautiful way. He has a wonderful recipe for dealing with fear - basically, facing it and "talking to it", respecting that it exists, but asking it to not dominate, but make room for other feelings. I don't remember all the details, but this is serendipitous for me. I need to go and read that chapter to help me face a nagging fear I have about tomorrow. I did feel that I should catch up on precisely YOUR blog posts to put me in a better frame of mind for tomorrow. You delivered some mind-blowing messages as well, but this topic of fear is so right for me just now. Thank you! :-)

Patti, this is so helpful as I work on / write about / teach a class in a moment (!! ah fear arises!) on fear and comfort... and David, your comment gets to the heart of it.

Thanks for the great ideas/ poetry and for helping me feel less alone. Connection dissolves fear!

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