Varieties Of Fears Of Self
( Originally Published Early 1900's )
It is because I wish to suggest a general atmosphere for such courage that I send you the message of our common four-fold rights. You are invited to read and re-read the preceding paragraphs until you feel, deeply and permanently, the thrill of personal confidence.
Assuming that a degree of inspiration has emerged from our study, we are now ready for some of the practical difficulties connected with the fear of self, and their remedies.
Fear of self manifests in a variety of ways. Thus we have shyness, bashfulness, diffidence, timidity, want of self-confidence. Let us define these phases of our subject, and discover, if possible, your own peculiar difficulty.
We may define shyness as a tendency to shrink from the presence of others, accompanied by a feeling of distress. "Shyness," Darwin said, "is closely related to fear; yet it is distinct from fear in the ordinary sense. A shy man no doubt dreads the notice of strangers, but can hardly be said to be afraid of them." Nevertheless, shyness sometimes amounts to fear, and in many instances is a real handicap against success. The general remedy consists in a resolute mingling with all sorts of people, together with a confident assertion, "I do not fear you; I am at ease in your presence." In time the distress of shyness will decrease, particularly if you forget yourself and so all occasion for the feeling. The best method for securing self-forgetfulness consists in assuming and developing a lively interest in other people and in any situation in which you may meet them. Self-assertive commingling with others and self-forgetfulness through interest — these are the methods, and they are infallible, if only the conquest of shyness is highly resolved upon and the effort held good for no matter how many years.
Bashfulness is akin to shyness, but seems to be excessive modesty in the presence of unfamiliar people.
Modesty, in the right degree and place, is a virtue, but when tainted with fear it becomes a vice. The remedy suggested for shyness may be consulted.
Diffidence, so far as it differs from the above, carries an undue apprehension of criticism because of failure. The word means, Latin dis, "apart," and fidere, "to trust:" short of trusting self. The remedy for shyness holds good here, but the diffident person should cultivate assurance that he will handle himself and any situation successfully, and especially should he develop a good degree of healthy indifference to adverse criticism. A negative method for this phase of indifference consists in developing a reasonable indifference for commendation. The diffident person will grow courage if he will only learn to stand squarely for his own character, rights, and life, refusing to depend, as most diffident people do, so greatly upon the criticisms of others, whether adverse or favorable.
Timidity is a condition in which one is easily frightened. The word comes from the Latin, timere, "to fear," and this is allied to the Sanskrit, tam, "to choke," and tamas, "darkness." When you remember choking and darkness; when we add coercion, from the word cow, which reminds us of caudal, "belonging to the tail," and the Norman French word, couard, "a hare"— we come to ideas which no man can relish as realized in himself. The timid man invites choking and darkness, and permits within himself the hare that always turns tail. The remedies are those indicated for shyness, bashfulness and diffidence.
The word fear is derived from the Anglo-Saxon faran, "to go," and originally referred to "peril while traveling." We are surely taring on through worlds and life. Fear averts no real peril, conjures up many an imaginary danger, and is empowered to overcome no evil. Self-preservation demands the substitution of reason and the "good heart" for this enemy of all our journey. When I say that the word heart comes from the Greek, kordia, and the Aryan, hrid, "that which quivers," it is urged that the trembling of fear for perils attending self in its travels through the world be overcome and swallowed up by the vibrant quiver of a heart of good courage. It is really vibration against vibration, and the strongest will win.
For how many otherwise splendid souls has this demon of fear tortured and defeated! Infinitely preferable any amount of egotism to any form fear may assume. We may well say, with Longfellow:
"Write on your doors the saying wise and bold,
To the varieties of fear thus far given may now be added certain forms which spring from a general knowledge of self. Illustrations are seen in -(1), Fear of the Passions; (2), Fear of Mental Action; (3), Fear of Beliefs and Moral Attitudes.
It will indicate how broad the foundation of courage is if we consider for a little these special phases of self-fear.
FIRST — FEAR of THE PASSIONS. This may be merely an exercise of sound reason induced by clear knowledge of self, or it may also be a morbid product of imagination. In the one case we have restraining wisdom, in the other, unnecessary distress and an evil check on free personal life. The passions are tremendous powers for good when controlled, but equal powers for injury when in a state of anarchy. You will find control becoming practically real by as much as you in thought exalt to its ideal each form of passion with which you are endowed and which is legitimate in exercise. In "Power For Success" I have analyzed the subject of the emotional life, and may here suggest merely some general considerations. The following are the great passions of human nature (read down) ----
Beauty, Courage, Will,
Let us mark with an asterisk those passions which no one need fear within himself, with a dagger those which require reason and idealization, and with a double dagger those which threaten self when turned toward any human being. We have, then, sixteen passions for which no one need entertain fear, provided, of course, they are taken normally — except that it is always a mistake to be any one thing so largely that other things are neglected. We have also, as passions which simply cannot be tolerated when entertained toward self, —guilt, shame, fear; and passions which cannot be tolerated when entertained toward others,—pride, hate, anger, jealousy, lust, revenge, murder. The remedy for shame and guilt is the white life.
"Conscience doth make cowards of us all," but a sense of rightness builds courage as surely as life builds cells of body. The remedy for pride, hate, anger, jealousy, and the sex passion is idealization: seen in pride as a sense of personal dignity and gratification because of well-earned success; seen in hate for everything meanly little and surely morally hurtful; seen in anger against tyranny, injustice and baseness of life; seen in jealousy controlled by reason for the real rights of self and others; seen in the sex passion conserved as consciously possessed power. Revenge is useless and debasing, and the spirit of murder is practical suicide. Sorrow is legitimate, and merely calls for reasonable control. The physical states of normal health should be idealized by thought of the body as a wonder and a temple and by right uses accompanied by the sense of mastery and of utility.
If, then, you will idealize the passions marked with a dagger, not one of them can ever bring harm to self.
SECOND — FEAR OF MENTAL ACTION. This fear may refer to collapse, and should then be entertained only in the form of self-interest thought, and the ground for it should be removed. If you have reason to apprehend this danger, you are urged to stop work in accustomed directions, consult a specialist, place yourself in an atmosphere of mental healing, and find new interests totally different from those of your old life for inspiring pursuit. I am entirely aware that it is easier to give than to act upon advice, but the matter reduces, nevertheless, to a choice on your part between collapse and loss of all values, on the one hand, and, on the other hand, some method as indicated, a measure of loss involved in the effort to prevent bankruptcy of brain, but, in the end, incalculable gain. When a man is bound to lose one way or another, good sense dictates that he choose the smaller loss — and the greater possible gain.
But fear of mental action is. frequently fear of consequences which may result from such action, as, for example, when one apprehends that certain intellectual reasonings may induce criticism from others or may upset some present accepted theory or belief. Such suggested evils are more than half imaginary, and, whether or no, they may be perfectly conquered by cultivating a deep and active determination to know reality as it is and to come to the last best conclusion, whatever that may be, regardless of consequences. I do not know a baser slave than the person who fears to follow where reason leads, even over the rim of the world. You are, therefore, invited to come utterly free and to idealize your own mind and surely trust its best earnest conclusions. You may get into error for a time, but you nevertheless save your mental integrity, and ultimately you will certainly arrive more and more at living truth.
THIRD - FEAR OP BELIEFS AND MORAL ATTITUDES. This fear may be similarly disposed of. I give here an illustration of what actually obtains in a multitude of cases. A one-time college president, in the later years of his life and after retirement from office, came to see something of the weight of the evidences in favor of the evolution theory. He said: "If I were a younger man, I am inclined to think I might become an evolutionist myself, but as it is, I do not dare to let go my old convictions." Here is an attitude maintained in the interest of religion which is distinctly immoral. It is immoral to fear truth of any sort, and by what instrument can we find truth if not by the human mind! It is irreligious to believe in a Deity who demands love for anything short of truth - the whole truth and nothing but the truth. It is bad thinking to imagine that any conceivable injury can come to real self from a fearless pursuit of truth, though it destroy all Bibles and wreck all religions. The only Bible which has right to acceptance is Truth, and the only religion that can make for human good is the life of Truth in the soul.
And I have before me, for another illustration, an article written by a learned theological professor in which, at the close of a fine disposal of another writer's assault on evolution, appear these words: "It may not be quite superfluous to add that the writer has never been a champion of evolution theory. Through-out his theological career his attitude toward that theory has been one of serene neutrality." This attitude is almost inconceivable in a scholar. It is difficult to understand how the attitude could have been one of "serene neutrality" unless the result of more or less self-coercion. If I stand in the midst of a political fight, I am bound to have some definite political opinions. The world is full of people in the position of "serene neutrality" where even receptivity would seemingly compel a judgment of some kind. I conclude that fear of self in its beliefs and moral attitudes demands cure, and may be cured, by absolute surrender to truth — as one, earnestly seeking, may find and understand truth.
These considerations, now, may seem too general for the fears of self which beset the practical life. We come, then, to the more familiar forms everywhere in evidence.