Fear For Others Is Selfishness
( Originally Published Early 1900's )
You will see, now, that I am neither brutal nor cynical when I say that fear for others is always a phase of fear for self. The action of reason in the interest of others is altogether legitimate and may be wholly unselfish, but the moment fear is felt, that moment we have a case of anticipation of distress to self. If your friend in danger were a savage criminal, you would perceive all his peril without a particle of anticipation of distress for yourself — provided the end of his difficulty could not contain otherwise shocking elements. But your friend's peril suggests a horde of latent possibilities distressful to your soul — and you fear for his safety. Remembering that fear and reason are not one thing, but are always totally different things, every idea of feeling essential to friendship and the other person's welfare may be present without a pang of actual fear. And the difficulty of seeing or realizing this truth does not disprove it.
Fear for others is distress for self; its chief tendency is a growing selfishness. The most selfish thing in the world is sorrow, as you observe at almost any service for the dead. How many women fall heavy like lead upon their husband's soul when the child dies. The man is not supposed to possess the capacity for love or for sorrow equal to that of the mother, and he must bear his own grief and the woman's dead weight. Here is a case demanding a few vigorous propositions. The subject is a little foreign to my theme, but I desire to say these things because they are illustrative after all:
I deny that woman is inferior by original constitution to man, and with equal emphasis that she is man's superior in character.
I deny inferiority or superiority in any man or woman based on sex. I deny the essential reality of sex. I hold that the essential human self is sexless. At a period prior to birth the sex of the human body is indeterminate. Sex is a convenience of physical existence, and it has no more to do with spirit than it has to do with hydrogen or oxygen. Inferiority and superiority among humans are due to differences in individual endowments and the outcome of use made of endowment during life. Hence I deny to woman as woman superior capacity for love or for sorrow. Some women are beautiful, but the sorrowing and fearing woman is always more or less selfish. And so is sorrowing and fearing man. The only exception is seen when love or grief are born of the Infinite White Life.
In multitudes of cases, distress is the rank selfishness of fear of distress for self. No interest in others need be accompanied by fear.
Fear, disease, and death are aliens to our world.
Were apprehension of distress to self caused by thought of possible injury to others eliminated from any given case, the all of reason would remain and the all of fear would go.
Kindly observe the noble array of vices which pose under the guise of a virtue — this so-called regard for other people. Such vices are, feelings of apprehension, care, concern, disquiet, disturbance, foreboding, dread, fretting, misgiving, perplexity, solicitude, trouble, worry, anxiety, anguish, terror, hysteria, panic, insanity: all states of mind which are of no value whatever to any one and ought to be wholly displaced by self-controlled reason.
I found myself greatly worried about a member of my family who had promised to return at an hour which had passed. A troop of evil imaginings took possession of my mind. The body became restless, the nerves more and more agitated, the mind confused, the soul distressed by a panorama of direful pictures. Then I said: "Let me analyze this state into which I have drifted. Here are anger, threat, present distress, fear. Now I am really angry because of selfishness — fear of distress to myself. My reason knows, of course, that danger may possibly threaten this friend, but in all probability it does nothing of the kind. Eliminating anger, the only remaining factor in my present state is unnecessary distress due to imaginings of future possibilities. Here I am at this moment in a condition of sheer selfishness. I can do nothing effective in the matter, and I will not worry." Such reflections banished fear, leaving reason in control, and my foolish excitement subsided.
You are invited, then, to consider and accept the proposition that fear for others is fear for self. This will awaken a good deal of surprise and induce a very healthful reaction. Many a soul that imagines itself a martyr is actually selfish at the core.
And you are especially invited to analyze your own feelings when in such a fearing state for others in order to banish the self-regarding phase of your condition and to restore to its rightful place and power clear and unmixed reason. You will find the exercise enormously helpful.