Updated: Aug 23, 2020
"In civilized life it has at last become possible for large numbers of people to pass from the cradle to the grave without ever having had a pang of genuine fear. Many of us need an attack of mental disease to teach us the meaning of the word." William James.
We have all heard the seemingly discriminating remarks that fear is normal and abnormal, and that normal fear is to be regarded as a friend, while abnormal fear should be destroyed as an enemy.
The fact is that no so called normal fear can be named which has not been clearly absent in some people who have had every cause therefor. If you will run over human history in your mind, or look about yea in the present life, you will find here and there persons who, in situations or before objects which ought, as any fearful soul will insist, to inspire the feeling of at least normal self-protecting fear, are nevertheless wholly without the feeling.
They possess every feeling and thought demanded except fear. The idea of self-preservation is as strongly present as with the most abjectly timid or terrified, but fear they do not know. This fearless awareness of fear suggesting conditions may be due to several causes. It may result from constitutional make-up, or from long continued training or habituation, or from religious ecstasy, or from a perfectly calm sense of spiritual selfhood which is unhurtable, or from the action of very exalted reason. Whatever the explanation, the fact remains: the very causes which excite fear in most of us, merely appeal, with such people, if at all. to the instinct of self-preservation and to reason, the thought-element of the soul which makes for personal peace and wholeness.
Banish all fear.
It is on such considerations that I have come to hold that all real fear-feeling should and may be banished from our life, and that what we call "normal fear" should be substituted in our language by "instinct" or by "reason," the element of fear being dropped altogether.
"Everyone can testify that the psychical state called fear consists of mental representations of certain painful results" (James). The mental representations may be very faint as such, but the idea of hurt to self is surely present. If, then, it can be profoundly believed that the real self cannot be hurt; if the reason can be brought to consider vividly and believingly all quieting considerations; if the self can be held consciously in the assurance that the White Life surrounds the true self, and is surely within that self, and will suffer "no evil to come nigh," while all the instincts of self preservation may be perfectly active, fear itself must be removed "as far as the east is from the west."
These are the ways, then, in which any occasion for fear may be divided:
As a warning and as a maker of panic. But let us say that the warning should be understood as given to reason, that fear need not appear at all, and that the panic is perfectly useless pain. With these discriminations in mind, we may now go on to a preliminary study of fear.
Fear is (a) an impulse, (b) a habit, (c) a disease.
Fear, as it exists in man, is a make-believe of sanity, a creature of the imagination, a state of insanity.