Contemplation: On Fear

“The oldest and strongest emotion of mankind is fear, and the oldest and strongest kind of fear is fear of the unknown.” ~ H. P. Lovecraft, 1927

“Where would be the merit if heroes were never afraid?” ~ Aphonse Daudet, 1872

WARNING:  While I cannot imagine that I will write anything overwhelmingly scary here I may mention names of books, movies, websites, etc. that have more than good probability to scare the shit out of some people (the point of this post is to talk about that which is scary) and so if you are an easily terrified individual certainly do not just go arbitrarily clicking on stuff or reading Stephen King stories.  Basically, I take no responsibility for your sleepless nights.

I kind of wish that this post could have waited until Halloween (for obvious reasons) but I doubt that I’d be able to keep it in my head that long (and it isn’t as fun to see a completed post in the drafts list just waiting and waiting.  October is too far away).  So I am going to write this now and just assume that scary stuff and thoughts about fear are probably always relevant and worth discussing.  What made me want to write this post was this thread on Reddit’s r/askreddit about creepiest/scariest/strangest things on the Internet (listen, some of the stuff listed there in is not for the weak of heart at all, so definitely proceed with caution.  I will say that SCP and Marble Hornets – actually the whole Slender Man mythos in the case of Marble Hornets – are personal favorites and absolutely fascinate me while also giving me some major willies).  Anyway, after encountering the thread and cautiously exploring some of the suggestions, I got to thinking more about fear in general and it has made me want to write a post on it.  So this is what you get.

To me, fear is fascinating (not necessarily desirable, but of a certain interest).  What I think is interesting about fear is that it is a mixture of actual logical thinking and completely overwhelming and often illogical impulses.  Fear, I think it is safe to say, stems from our will to survive.   Because there are certainly dangers in our actual lives we develop reasonable aversions to certain situations (we do not just jump of cliffs and engage in fisticuffs with angry bears) because of the tested evidence that supports that these situations often have fatal results.  This is reasonable and logical.  But fear itself, the emotional response can occur even in the absence of these truly dangerous situations (I think we can assume it almost always occurs in the presence of the situations).  Fear can occur in the most seemingly safe places in the world.  Furthermore, the objects of fear, those things that truly terrify us, can be almost anything, regardless of any actual risk they pose to us and our survivability.  For these reasons fear is of great interest to me.

Everyone fears something.  There are people who may make bold claims that they are fearless and some folks can certainly handle a higher level of fear inducing stimuli (for example horror movies, books, etc. have never really bothered me as much as they do some people. In fact have long been a favorite genre of mine.  Some still scare me, certainly, but in general I am okay with the material).  Still, everyone fears something.  I would be will to bet that the most common fear, shared almost universally, is that of the unknown (so many subsequent fears stem from this broad thing), followed closely by death (which really is just a variation on the theme of the unknown).  Some of are fears are more immediately relevant (say the fear of falling off of a high and wobbly bridge while trying to cross it) while others may be vague and uncertain (a nagging concern that you said something wrongly and that repercussions are apt to occur in the unforeseen future due to it).  However, when we are suddenly in the grip of feeling personal fear, it can be hard for us to think of anything else besides it.

While fear is certainly universal its occurences are very often intimately personal and individual.  The fear that one person may be experiencing may seem absolutely baffling and inane to others and yet trying to reason “there is nothing to be afraid of” hardly ever is an actual source of comfort.  In this way our personal experiences of fear are terribly real, even when we can recognize that they may be illogical.  We can feel it, not just in outr minds, but often time physically (heart racing, heavy breathing, sweating, etc.).  The experience of fear can be . . . well . . . . simply terrifying.

Thinking of myself, I am trying to remember my first vivid experience of fear.  I have many memories of the feeling over the past 27 years but I think my earliest memory goes back to when I was about three years old (in fact I think that it may be one of my earliest memories in general).  It is vague now and I cannot be certain of the source for which this fear formed.  All I recall is being in my room and thinking that something was off.  I can’t remember if I cried out for my parents or got out of bed to go find them, but I do remember that the feeling was overwhelming.  I think that I thought that there was something in my room (such a common childhood fear).  It is hazy in detail but still it is in my head.  It is real.  It happened.  I was afraid.

My life with things that are scary thus far has been an interesting duality.  On one hand, I have experienced my fair share of fears and have several things that continually scare me (for example, rabies has constantly bothered me and I have never liked closets being left open regardless of where they are or the time of day).  On the other hand, as I said above, I enjoy things that fall into the horror genre (though I am not as big a fan about gore and slasher stuff, not because if scares me much, it really doesn’t, just that I think it is gross and tiring).  Some of my personal favorite authors are the likes of Stephen King, H. P. Lovecraft,  and John Bellairs (whose stories arguably started my love of the genre).  As a kid (and still today) I loved reading about haunted places and often tried to visit them (I had a bunch of Joe Citro’s books and would try to visit various Vermont haunted sites, including my friend Kevin’s house in high school).  I love television shows about the supernatural, haunting, and other unexplained things.  So really I am both an experiencer of fear and one who actively seeks it out (though interestingly, most of the stuff I seek on my own does not usually scare me too much – a little, yes, but not overwhelmingly so).

I think our fear helps define each of us for who we are.  It provides us with constant challenges to try to overcome while it also helps us choose our life paths by making us averse to certain actions or decisions.  By facing our fears we grow stronger and by heeding certain fears we stay alive and pass on our wisdom and experiences to others.  In this way while we may be averse to the experience of fear many of us are apt to be thankful for the opportunities that arise in its’  occurrence.

The question for many of us might be “what am I to do with my fear?”  I do not know that there is much of an answer to this but for me I feel that my fear is worthy of contemplation (perhaps lacking a true understanding, for often times these things defy reason).  Why open closets for me?  Certainly there is the elements of the unknown there.  I am sure a few choice stories or experiences have had the influence (especially Stephen King’s short story “The Boogeyman” which I read in 8th grade and it absolutely horrified me then and still creeps me out like no other story).  But I am also fascinated that I never felt bothered by hiding in a closet when playing hide and seek or going into the closet to get clothes or something else.  No, it is only the slightly ajar closet door that really bothers me.  It is hard to admit personal fears because they so often come across as arbitrary and unnecessary.   Thinking about our fears may not remove them, but they can help us to better understand them and figure out how to deal with them.  I am a firm believer that while we may all have our moments of fear it is important that we do not let our fear dominate us and that, with effort, we can certainly reign it in.

The examination of fear has existed for a long time.  We celebrate holiday’s like Halloween that focus on fear, we create art about fear, our psychologist study the emotion.  It is a part of the human experience and I doubt it is going anywhere anytime soon.  Fear is a part of us, for better or worse.

So here is an open invitation dear readers.  Share your thoughts on fear and if you are brave (and anyone who survived fear is) share some of your own fears.

Peace for now.

~ by Nathaniel on June 2, 2011.

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