Why You Shouldn't Live In Fear

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What happens when fear overwhelms reason? Dennis Prager offers much-needed perspective into how fear—specifically irrational fear—affects both the individual and society.

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The most famous words of Franklin Roosevelt, America’s longest-serving president, were “The only thing we have to fear is fear itself.”

One wonders if any world leader would or even could say that today. We live in the Age of Fear.

All of my life, I thought love and hate were the two most powerful emotions.

But owing to recent events, I have changed my mind. 

I now understand that for most people, fear is the strongest emotion.

In fact, I’ve come to realize that it is possible to get people to do anything if you instill enough fear in them. Specifically, irrational fear.

Fear of Covid, for example, is rational. But media and governments induced irrational fears. That’s why millions of healthy people stayed indoors for a year or more, why a vast number of people have worn masks while walking or sitting alone outdoors, and why so many parents did not allow their young children to play with other children for a year or more, despite the fact that the Covid mortality rate among children is considerably less than the flu’s mortality rate among children.

All of this was caused by irrational fear. It turns out that fear is not only more powerful than love and hate, in most people it is more powerful than reason. And when it is, it is far more destructive—to the individual and to society—than rational fear.

What is rational fear? When a soldier fears going into battle, that’s rational. Soldiers cannot allow fear to control their behavior, but their fear is not irrational. If a mugger points a gun at you, it is rational to feel fear. If you are diagnosed with cancer, it is rational to experience fear. 

Rational fear is not necessarily a bad thing. It is irrational fear that does the most harm—to yourself, to others, and to all of society. 

The Salem witch trials of the seventeenth century were an example of irrational fear leading to evil—the killing of women who were believed to be witches.

You would think that the Enlightenment of the 18th century, with its focus on reason and science, would have led to a great lessening of irrational fear. 

It hasn’t. 

To take one contemporary example, many people have decided not to have children because they fear that a warming planet represents an “existential threat” to life. Now, it is rational to be concerned about climate change; it is irrational not to have children because of it. But it gets even more irrational. Their parents often support this decision, despite their deep yearning to be grandparents.

Irrational fear is also a major source of hatred. People hate what they fear. It was Germans’ irrational fear of Jews—people who made up under one percent of the German population—that led to the unique evil known as the Holocaust. 

Given the awful power of fear, what can you do to be less fearful?

The first thing you must do is determine whether your fears are rational, or irrational. 

And that can only be accomplished by thoroughly studying the issue—whatever it happens to be: global warming, a pandemic, racism, or any other controversial subject.

For example, blacks are told to fear white police because white police are racist and want to do them harm. This is largely an irrational fear. It is well-documented that in any given recent year, the number of unarmed blacks killed by police is approximately twenty—nearly all of whom seriously threatened the lives of the policemen who killed them.

Another example: Credible scientists who acknowledge that global warming is taking place, but contend that it is not an existential threat to life, are dismissed as “anti-science” and their views largely suppressed. Read them, and many of your fears will be allayed. (You might even decide to have children).

Most fears are stoked by governments and their allies in the mass media and in big tech, who in turn suppress contrary opinions. Therefore, please understand that when you hear only one side of the story, and that opinion is designed to make you afraid, there is a good chance that your fears are unwarranted.

Determining whether your fears are rational or irrational is one of the most important things you will ever do. The quality of your life and the life of your society depend on your making that distinction.

I’m Dennis Prager.