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Fear is one of the principal factors determining political decisions throughout the world and contributes readily to anger and violence. Fear is easily exploited by politicians during times of insecurity and makes peaceful and progressive solutions harder to find. Fear, more perhaps than any other emotion, impedes change and healthy development, even where the need for it is clearly understood.

Political cultures often insist that politicians appear strong and certain of themselves in order to provide leadership in a frightening world. Their consequent unwillingness to admit to any uncertainty or doubt surely impedes clear debate on complex issues and blocks wise decision-making.

Fear and conflict

War and conflict is often brought about or worsened by fear and manipulation of fear. Sometimes it may seem reasonable and necessary, but a fearful response can easily become self-fulfilling. Less fearful and more peaceful approaches to issues of potential conflict could save countless lives and do more to create global trust, goodwill and security than any number of military operations. If we could act and make policy with less fear and more love, as all spiritual traditions urge us to do, then surely the world would be a far safer place.

In addition to strategic questions, policies relating to crime and punishment are also often overshadowed and influenced by a heavy weight of fear. In part because of this, they then focus more on punishment than on prevention and rehabilitation in attempting to reduce criminal behaviour. In the same way, many troubled children are neglected and ignored when they need help and then, through fear, demonised and punished when it may almost be too late to help them.

Personal fears and society

Clearly there is a strong link between fear as it affects societies and as it affects individuals. We project inner fears onto the world around us, particularly onto the unknown, the unfamiliar and the other. While unscrupulous leaders frequently take advantage of our fears, the most remarkable and admired leaders are often those who are lacking in fear. They understand the interconnectedness of life and thus act lovingly without appearing to fear for their own security. They trust that others will support them when necessary and they speak their mind clearly and courageously, even if they are isolated or ridiculed as a result.

In a less fearful world there might be more people with a strong sense of authenticity and empathy, which provide protection against competitive and consumerist pressures and against the urge to seek constant movement and novelty. Such people would be more resistance to advertising, which notoriously plays on our fears of inadequacy compared to others or to some supposed ideal.

A fearful and mistrustful person or society is likely to cling for security to all that is familiar. Fear of losing that security can lead in turn to conflict or to clinging and difficult relationships. Those who cling to dogmatic beliefs frequently come into conflict with others, may be highly intolerant of bold questioning and may nurture fear of non-conformity and of outsiders.

The first task in creating a less fearful and mistrustful world would surely be to ensure that as many children as possible spend their early years in a loving atmosphere of confidence and security. Meanwhile, we could choose to examine our fears and to see what they are really about and we could consciously seek political leaders who are not influenced by fear and whose manifestos would pursue more peaceful and optimistic paths.


Author: James Sainsbury