The Opposite of Fear
Based on what I’ve been seeing regarding people’s reactions to the unfolding coronavirus situation, many seem to be trying to keep themselves out of fear mode.
Instead of fear, they suggest to adopt a mode of thinking and being they typically describe with words like optimism or love.
Stay positive. Don’t be afraid. Don’t panic. Turn towards love.
Yet when you look at their responses and attitudes, what they’re really doing is one of more of these:
- Hoping that everything will be okay
- Ignoring or downplaying risks
- Making claims based on mathematical ignorance
- Reposting debunked memes
- Trying to encourage others not to fear
- Stocking up on food and toilet paper
- Sanitizing their hands like a Golgafrinchan phone
Is this really the opposite of fear though? Is this even moving away from fear all that much?
I’d say that the opposite of fear is more likely to include actions such as these:
- Seeking to understand the situation more accurately
- Gathering facts, details, and relevant predictive information
- Assessing risks
- Making rational predictions based on relevant models and data
- Identifying, defining, and prioritizing problems
- Devising solutions to problems
- Implementing solutions and lifestyle adjustments
- Sharing facts, details, and actionable info with others
- Asking questions to increase understanding
- Cooperating with others to identify, prioritize, and solve problems
- Coordinating with others to implement solutions
- Monitoring changes to the dynamic situation
Many people are doing a bit from both lists, which is to be expected. We have our rational side and our irrational aspects.
Is it really helpful though to focus on fear as one of the main problems though? Is this actually helping much?
When you think that you need to overcome fear first, does it help you behave more rationally? Does it get assessing risks and solving problems?
Or does trying to not be afraid lead you towards some form of distraction or other behaviors that delay or subvert more rational behaviors?
I think it’s hard for our characters to really grasp what the opposite of fear is supposed to look like, especially in terms of actions. When we tell ourselves not to be afraid, what do we actually do? What does doing “not afraid” actually look like? That isn’t so clear.
It appears that doing “not afraid” often looks like inviting other people to stop being afraid and to start loving and helping and supporting each other.
We’re all in this together. Don’t be a hoarder. Stay calm. And there will be rainbows and unicorns again… but unfortunately no leprechauns since St. Patrick’s Day parades are canceled.
The “don’t be afraid” admonition is one of those lines of thinking that sounds good at first, but it tends to fizzle into actions that don’t necessarily help that much. It’s not so terrible to remind ourselves not to be afraid and to turn towards love, but then where we take this beyond sharing platitudes and memes? The energy of this idea tends to fizzle out pretty quickly.
Reminding people not to fear probably might help a little bit, but it’s probably better at attracting likes and one-line comments than really moving the needle forward for most people.
Lately I’ve been finding that what moves the needle forward more than “let’s not be afraid” reminders is sharing detailed and rational info that helps people better understand how to frame this situation, what we can reasonably expect next, and why certain actions are rational right now, such as Tomas Pueyo’s coronavirus article that I’ve been referring many friends to, or Sébastien Night’s coronavirus article for the entrepreneurial perspective.
It’s good to want to move away from fear, but I think we can do better than suggesting that the opposite of fear is love and squishiness. I think we’re better of framing the opposite fear as rational investigation, risk assessment, and problem-solving.
Given the egregious leadership vacancy at the federal level in the USA right now, we’re going to have to pick up the slack ourselves to make up for those shortcomings as best we can. Reminding each other to embrace love instead of fear is okay now and then, but let’s be sure to embrace, encourage, and demonstrate rational action to identify and reduce our risks as well.
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