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

Recently, I was asked a rather intriguing question by my tea bag1: what are you most afraid of? While the question itself might be straightforward, the intriguing part was that I found myself having great difficulty answering it.

What was I most afraid of? The mind springs immediately to more ‘personal dangers’, as I’d call them: fear of getting injured, fear of death (of myself or loved ones), fear of looking like an idiot in social situations. Realistic fears, all in all: an injury would be rather disastrous for my rowing career (and by correlation probably my overall happiness), an acquaintance of mine got in a traffic accident earlier this year and sadly passed away, and for the latter… well let’s say I experience the reality of that often enough. And sure, I worry about all of these at times, though they are few and far between, and I’d be hard-pressed to say I’m actively ‘afraid’ of any of these. I felt I was on the wrong track here; these were not the kind of soul-crushing, hopelessness-inducing fears I was looking for.

And that’s where I got stuck, initially, to the point of even wondering whether I had been wrong to classify myself as a Hufflepuff2 – with my apparent lack of fears3, I couldn’t help but wonder whether Gryffindor would have been the more appropriate house after all. Of course, I had an indispensible resource at my disposal to fix that problem: the world at large.

Trump cancelling the Paris Agreement – or, really, anything that man manages to do – manages to give me a bout of anxiety every time I think about it. Will the Syria situation ever get any better, and will people ever manage to bring up some humanity for those who flee their homes in desperation? Soul-crushing achieved. When is the first real terrorist attack coming to the Netherlands, and can it even be avoided at all? Hopelessness, check. Will I ever achieve anything meaningful at all? Cue despair.

While my own personal situation seemed pretty fine and did not have me worried much at all, digging a little deeper revealed the troublesome fact that, apparently, I deep down believe that there are a great deal of problems much larger than me, that I’m afraid may never find a good resolution. The problem, of course, is that my influence on them is effectively zero. And perhaps therein lies the crux of the matter. My own destiny, at the very least, I have a pretty major hand in shaping. I can step up when opportunities present themselves, I can choose to make choices for my personal safety in my daily life, and I can try my hardest to be a good person and choose to hang out with people that make me happy to be around them. That’s easy. Climate change? Terrorism? That is all beyond my control. There is nothing for me to do about it.

Well, that had me swimming in the kiddie pool of despair for a moment, I’ll admit. But, as always, there is hope. One ant could never hope to build an anthill – but a billion ants will build one in hours. One person cannot change the world – but many people? We just might. My story today, then, is not one of fear. It is one of dreams. Dreams of a brighter tomorrow, that we can all help build. In the first place, make choices that are good for you and the people around you – but after you’re done doing so, look to the bigger picture, stand up for the things you believe in, and try and do your part, small as it may be, whenever you can.

I’m leaving Writer’s Block – this will be my final4 article I write for you guys. And as I write this, I realize that even this magazine, a relatively small production, is big enough that I could not have done it on my own. But I did my part, and I tried to make choices that I believed were good, and I tried to make things better. And you know what? I probably did, at least a little bit. And, not unimportantly, I chose a successor, who in turn will make sure that they try to change the things that they think need changing, and make things a little bit better. Your choices matter. Your actions matter. You might be afraid, true, but remember: we all are. And that’s okay – we’re in it together.

1 – In case Pickwick doesn’t yet do this across the globe: every Dutch packet of Pickwick tea comes with a ‘conversation starter’-question on the label these days. Some are interesting, some are silly, and some are downright heavy stuff.
2 – The hufflest of puffs, in fact.
3 – Of course recognizing that, as Nelson Mandela remarked, “true courage is not the absence of fear, but the triumph over it.” Yada yada yada.
4 – Or is it???

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