On the power of fear

Fear is a powerful and primal emotion. It’s useful immediately but does more damage than good if allowed to continue for more than a short time. I’ve noted it’s done a lot of damage in individuals and our society in this time of pandemic.

We were right to be afraid, in certain amounts, of the novel coronavirus. When it first emerged on the scene, we only knew it was killing and infecting many in China (and since it was China, which isn’t exactly known for free speech and dissemination of accurate information, that rightly made it a possibility that the few facts we supposedly knew could be completely wrong either direction), and it was spreading. Scientists knew very little about how it acted, how it spread, how severe it was, what the death and infection rates were. Our governments decided to take the drastic step of ordering individuals to shelter in place and closing down much of normal life. At the time, that seemed a safe bet — for two or four weeks, as we took a little time to get hospitals better prepared and figure out how to make better policy decisions after that short full shutdown.

After a few months of shutdown and some devastating consequences in countless areas of individual and communal life, fear is still running rampant. However, now our scientists know more. There are more data and facts available. Studies are underway; some have already concluded and yielded useful information that can guide policy and sound reasoning as we await even more important data and conclusions. At this point, fear levels in people are all over the map. Some are so afraid that they won’t leave their homes even after 10 weeks or more of shutdowns. In some areas of the country, this fear is more understandable than in others. Some people don’t believe the virus is at all serious and have no fear at all of going about normal life. And then there are plenty of levels of fear in between, leading to various reactions and decisions about how to live life, how to interact in society in any way.

I can say this: Those who still experience the highest levels of fear tie it to virtue, and that leads to judgment of all those who don’t share the same levels of fear. I witnessed a woman in a level of authority in our school system talk at a meeting (on Zoom/YouTube) share how she has seen great fear in the eyes of some constituents. And I could see in her face that because of that deep fear she saw that their opinions (naturally and without doubt; it should be accepted as FACT) should carry the most weight (compared to any other constituents who had varying opinions along a spectrum) as others in authority discussed how to make decisions pertaining to thousands of students (and their families).

Some people’s fear (it really is debatable whether it’s rational or irrational or anywhere in between) shut down the reasoned opinions and concerns of a whole other group of people. And that itself makes me a bit afraid. Because if we automatically give the most credence to those who have the most fear, fear will rule. Emotion will win out every single time. Emotions should be validated, considered, weighed. But reason, with emotions kept in check and tamed to some degree, should be considered and weighed more. If we let fear rule, it becomes the highest virtue, a moral imperative, and that is an outcome of this pandemic that will be far more dangerous than the illness itself.

Author: Cathy Carmode Lim

I'm a copy editor, writer, and book reviewer with three decades of experience. My book review website is RatedReads.com. I'm a mom of four and grandma of three.

6 thoughts on “On the power of fear”

  1. Pandemic

    Hog Wash!
    I’ve never heard of fear as a virtue, except from narcissists who control others through fear. The poor souls who grew up subject to narcissists, many of whom now have PTSD, must learn to control fear by discerning reality and accepting it for what it truly is.

    The same is true about the pandemic. There is still a very present danger involved. Your timeline is quite distorted. If the government had done an early lock down, as you said, we would have been past this long ago. The confinement was late. And it was far from complete. So many individuals felt invincible and spread it like wild fire. (You know about those too. You live in California. Though, in a safe environment not touched by the fires.) So, the dangers linger. The worst being that no one knows who is carrying the virus and exposing others, until after they have exposed upwards of 500 people. Those people in exchange can do the same, unwittingly. You know this. It’s fact. Not fear. Unfortunately, in our county, you cannot get a test unless you have; 1. A fever. 2. A cough or flu symptoms. AND 3. Been exposed by someone who has the virus. (I know, I tried.) Now, how would I know I have been exposed, if the person who exposed me had no symptoms and neither could he could get a test?

    Our county is one of three counties with the highest infection and death rates in the whole state of California. That includes Los Angeles, San Diego, and many other metropolitan areas. OMG, we are a rural county! True, half our death rate is due to the contamination of helpless seniors confined to nursing homes. But, the other half is still higher than all the surrounding counties, including Fresno, a metropolitan county. Oh, and all other counties have nursing homes also. Either they are taking better care of their elderly, or they are not wining about skewed numbers. These statistics were announced last week by our governor. He warned these specific counties (including ours) to be very cautious about opening businesses and lifting restraints. And, what do you know, by Friday, three County Supervisors, underhandedly took advantage of a situation and canceled ALL restrictions for our county. They went against the governor’s advice. They went agents the President’s advice. They went agents the advice of all medical doctors and researchers of this virus and the CDC. Yes, some businesses need to open for everyone’s sake. But there needs to be common sense and balance. The virus didn’t go away. Far from it. In fact, over the 3 day holiday week end the infection and death rates almost doubled.

    There is a difference between fear and caution. You are not afraid of crocodiles, because you do not live in a crocodile den. If you lived in a crocodile den. You would have to be very cautious, whether or not you were fearful.

    I don’t think we live in a nation of people fearful of the virus, as devastating as it can be. I think more people are fearful of change, isolation, loss of income, loss of education, loss of routine, etc.,etc.. It’s been the cry of the healthy people wanting to go back to work, not because they fear the virus. They fear loosing their income. That fear has caused governments to try to open businesses again. Many people have adapted. They work at home. They engage with their families as never before. They get their education on line. Opening schools to soon would FORCE children, their teachers and all school personnel to enter crocodile dens. And the invisible crocodiles would follow them home from school.

    Whatever fear the people have of changes, on both sides of this table, it needs to be replaced with patience. Change is inevitable. Things will never be the same as before the virus. That will be a challenge for everyone. Challenges can be seen as disastrous or as opportunities. We can choose to wait and learn. Or we can choose to be disgruntled, angry and rush in to an unknown danger, unprepared, forcing any undesirable consequences on others. To have civil freedom, we must allow others to have their freedoms also. It’s a delicate balance. One must learn to walk The center and tread lightly on either side.

  2. Thanks for sharing your opinion. I obviously disagree with some of your conclusions. I think we have to return to closer to normal, though it won’t be “normal.” We must be as safe as we can be, but we simply cannot stay shut down and have millions upon millions without jobs or income, among other devastating outcomes. Yes, this virus kills. But it’s going to be impossible to keep it from doing so. Staying “shut down” won’t even do that. The cat is out of the bag and we really can’t shove it back in. We’re going to have to work toward a new normal for a while. I’m not saying if some people are fearful they actually think of it as a virtue. Far from it. But it does end up entitling them to have their voices heard more than others.

  3. Strangely I find that when I’m fearful, no one hears me and I go further into the pit. I have also found that when I’m confident, not only do people hear me, but I thrive. It’s been said, I think it was Leo Buscaglia, that the opposit of love is not hate. It’s fear. The Bible tells us “God is love.” So, if you don’t have God, you have fear. So, I do agree that we are a nation of fear, because we lack Godly love. But that has nothing to do with the pandemic.
    Actually we are seeing many more acts of Godly love now during the pandemic. Many people volunteering, putting their life on the lines to help feed and care for others.
    If so many are afraid of the virus, then who will tend the stores and who will shop? I’m sure it would includ those who paid no attention to the stay at home orders.
    I think that, as I said, the doctors and the numbers say it’s not quite time yet. That is based on fact and expert opinion, not fear.
    Opening things too soon for the good for the health and health services of our nation is only to quel the fears of those who will have financial difficulty, which we all will have. So in that sense, you are right! And money rules again.
    As far as things going back to “normal” there is no such thing except on the dial of your washing machine. We make our own normal. It’s an illusion. The only constant is change. Things can not go back to the way they were. That may not be a bad thing. We won’t know until we get there.

    1. I think I’ve seen that when people are mean and angry, their power is reduced. Confidence and respect definitely make a difference and are true strength. I don’t at all think that fear is the right way to go in pretty much any situation. Yes, love is the “opposite” and the Godly way. I’ve been boosted as well by seeing all the loving and generous acts people have performed in this time.
      I do agree we need to follow the science. I’ve been very careful about basing my opinions on facts as reported by reputable sources, and the science, the continuing studies and results, indicate to me that we can open up with safe measures in place. There is just no way to guarantee saving lives from the virus, even with a continued shutdown as we have been under. In addition, a continued full shutdown is ruining MANY other lives. I don’t think it’s accurate that people are “fearful” of financial difficulties lying ahead. Millions have filed for unemployment in our state alone. That’s happened already. People are in dire straits. So that’s not fear for a possible future of economic problems. It’s current fact. People don’t have income and can’t take care of their own. That’s desperation and it can lead to anger.
      At any rate, I know we disagree about opening up. It’s true that “normal” is a pretty fuzzy word. I absolutely agree. But it’s the one we basically have to use for lack of a better one. We are looking at a “new normal” (again, for lack of more precise verbiage). I hope that involves lots of positive changes. I agree that things can’t go back to just the way they were, and I hope that we can look at a better “normal” in the near future.

      1. Well, I must say, this last post about “opening up with safe measures in place,” is quit different than what i what I perceived in your first post. Following the guidance of the government and health officials and opening by levels and with caution, is the moderate path to take in restoring commerce. Personally taking precautions when shopping and in social affairs is also a conservative approach which will help. Those who don’t, which is their civil right, may do so at their own risk, as many have.
        What I disagree with is the county supervisors decision to open everything and eliminate all safety precautions. That would cancel any effectiveness that you and your family have suffered through during these two long months.
        I still disagree with many of you statements in your original post. But, that’s OK. I see we both come from different sides of the fence and probably don’t fully comprehend what the other is trying to say.


      2. Nowhere in the original post did I indicate that I believe everything should open without any kind of reasonable measures in place. I simply made the point that from my perspective, I’ve seen the range of responses, one extreme of which is tied to a great deal of fear and which I believe to that extreme extent is unwarranted (and that has led to a kind of “virtue” that points its finger at anyone else’s feelings/opinions and says they’re not worth listening to — and I’m not the only one making this observation; there have been some articles I’ve seen in major national newspapers make this point that are better written than my post). I also don’t think from what I understood about the county’s decision that the supervisors decided that “anything goes.” They simply decided we could move on to a later stage than Phase 2. I have never agreed or posted anywhere that we have no precautions whatsoever. (You can see all that I’ve written on Facebook.) I think it’s foolish that there are those agitating for no mask-wearing at all. (I’d put those people on the other end of that spectrum, and I don’t agree with that.)

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