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The social construction of fear

People are full of fear. Everywhere a sense of fear sleeps under the hubris of western affluence, religious fundamentalism, and grinding poverty. This fear is not merely individual (like a fear of snakes) it is psycho-social, institutionalised into the very fabric of society. It is a national and international psychosis in the western world.

Fear. It may not appear obvious but it is really apparent if you are not afraid to look. Fear tries to hide. Hide behind smiles and laughter. Hide behind the ‘stuff’ of materialism. Hide behind inebriation.

We fear not being ‘successful’, in a society where ‘success’ does not guarantee freedom from fear. We fear financial crises. We fear another terrorist attack. We fear not having enough even when we have too much.

An ageing population is afraid they will die in poverty. Their sons and daughters fear not getting an inheritance. Young career-focused professionals fear they will die lonely without children or grandchildren to be at their side at death.

The employed live in fear of losing their jobs. The immigrant fears being abused and bullied by white xenophobes who themselves are full of fear of those who are not like them. The famous fear themselves and choke on their own chemical cocktails in the best five star hotel rooms available.

We all fear rejection. I grew up fearing God.

Fear of intimacy hides behind a tsunami of pornography available at a click. In relationship we fear telling the truth as much as we fear being lied to. We fear loss of ownership over our partner’s body should they choose to give it to anyone else. We fear ending a relationship when we fear it has become meaningless.

We fear missing out. We fear not being connected, and endlessly clutch our mobile phones on trains, planes and footpaths. We fear what others will think of the way we dress (so we dress like everyone else). We are afraid of appearing dull, but we fear standing out in a crowd. We fear difference and otherness and so we live lives of conformity.

We are afraid of extreme weather events, but too afraid to change patterns of consumption in case we lose out on something. The media – like the thief – fears being caught.

We fear failure. We fear death because we don’t know what is beyond it and in turn, we fear knowing what is beyond it.

We manage fear in many ways. We look to politicians, religious leaders and marketing professionals to alleviate fear. They all know what we fear. They study fear everyday. They feed fear every day and offer their own solutions. And we buy them.

We are the hollow men

We are the hollow men

Headpiece filled with straw

Regards – T. S. Eliot

What are you afraid of and how will you deal with it?

Maybe its time to confront our fears and find our own solutions. To affirm life – not fear. To fill our heads with more than straw. To challenge those who create fear and then peddle their solutions. To live outside the systems of fear and find alternatives by creating community and resilience.

Choose life – life free from institutionalised fear. Decades ago this was the advice of the late German feminist, political theologian and activist, Dorothy Sölle, at a time when women feared freedom and men feared women being free.

We can tread our own pathways to a future free of fear.

Or as Russell Brandt suggests: freeing ourselves from fear is a journey we can all go on together, all of us. We can include everyone and fear no one. We can create a system that serves the planet and the people.

I’d vote for that.

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