“For God has not given us the spirit of fear, but of power and of love and of a sound mind.” (2 Timothy 1:7)
At one point during the past election season as I was reading opposing views of a particularly contentious issue, I made an effort to find some common ground. What I hit on was fear. Both sides were afraid that what might happen would affect them in a negative way. Each side saw that if the other prevailed, that they, or those they cared about, would be seriously hurt. They each focused on their own fears without seeing that the other side was just as fearful, but of a different outcome that could have just as detrimental an affect on them. The arguments of each side were more to convince the other that the fears of their particular group were somehow more legitimate or serious, especially if that group could be seen as victims.
My hope in seeking a common ground was to find some principle upon which both sides could unite – something they could feel they had in common. If both sides could see that they really feared the same basic things – and desired the same things – you would think that they might feel some common concern. We might hope that fear could unite opposing sides out of some sense of compassion, but the reality is much scarier.
Fear is basically divisive
Fear tends to be divisive – not uniting – primarily because there is a tendency to see the opposing side as somehow responsible for or potentially causing what is feared. It is this kind of fear that promotes war. The underlying fear is that if your side gets its way and gets what it wants, our side will lose and be hurt. Each side wants to feel justified in the victim position. Each fails to see that if they win and get what they want, that others may suffer. So we continue to have two opposing sides pointing fingers and fearing each other.
Possibly, if both sides saw the source of their fears as a common enemy, or even of something outside of human control, there might be potential for unity? But even then, fear tends to bring out the worst in people. Most feel helpless and look to others to lead them. This can lead to further division with competing leaders with very different approaches to deal with issues.
I am concerned that the media plays on fear. With every potential political action, we hear stories of fear – of those who might be hurt by such action. Fear promotes panic and outrage. Even when nothing has yet happened, stories are presented as if the damage has already began. We have protests over things that have not happened, just what some fear will happen. We have people so afraid of being in a situation which might make them uncomfortable, they insist on accommodations (safe spaces) that actually infringe on the rights of others.
Fear is often used to manipulate, to motivate to action (which might be thought to be good action), or to enforce compliance of rules or laws. Fear is used successfully in marketing. Fear has been used by religious leaders to encourage obedience. It might seem that fear would be the motivator for action to right a wrong or defend a valid position, but fear actually can inhibit positive action and promote negative reactions. Most people in fearful situations, hunker down. We assume defensive positions and postures. We hide. Others might lash out and attack whomever they perceive to be the source of their fear.
Fear is the goal of terrorism. What might initially have some basis in fear is turned outward to attack those perceived to be hurting the cause. Terrorism thrives on fear. Control comes when others are too fearful to act.
“Faith and fear cannot coexist”
Fear can be overcome with a perspective that there is a higher power in control of the ultimate outcome; there is a grand plan which will prevail; that whatever frightening things may happen we will not be forsaken, but can be strengthened and guided and our sufferings work to our good.
My mantra for a difficult period of my life was Paul’s words to Timothy: “For God has not given us the spirit of fear, but of power and of love and of a sound mind.” (2 Timothy 1:7) The antidote to fear – and the greater motivator for good – is turning to God. “Look unto me in every thought; doubt not, fear not” (D & C 6:36). Even the announcement of the birth of the Savior to the shepherds began with “Fear not!”
President Deiter F. Utchdorf in the April 2017 General Conference of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, reminded us that God does not want us to be fearful. He encouraged us to not burden ourselves with fear, but trust in the pure love of Christ.
“Perfect love casteth out fear”
“There is no fear in love; but perfect love casteth out fear” (1 John 4:18). Feeling the love of God in our lives can calm our fears. Receiving the love of God can effect a change in our hearts so that we can become more loving of others. We no longer fear those we come to love.
Maybe if we can learn to love each other, we can have compassion for each other’s fears and ease them by supporting rather than threatening. We could cease to see others as our enemies or responsibly for conditions which we fear.