Fearful Crowd

( Originally Published Early 1900's )

"Neither God nor devil, but a man."—" The Man Who Would Be King."

CURIOUS is this feature in fear-hallucination that one may be apprehensive before a crowd while consciously indifferent toward any of its individuals. An hallucination may be sufficiently de-fined as an impression not founded in fact. The apparent foundation or this fear is the notion of fear-worthy danger to self threatening injury or loss of reputation. This is an old error — that danger is something to be afraid of. The recognition of danger should not be identified with the emotion of fear or with a feeling of nervous apprehension. Always danger may exist without inducing fear. In regard to the crowd, the word hallucination is doubly applicable, therefore because the crowd-fearing person assumes that danger justifies his fear, and because he manufactures a mysterious something in the crowd which none of its individuals supplies. If he is not afraid of any individual in the. crowd, fear before the crowd is his own creation. If, however, the crowd portends an injury which no individual could portend, it is error to suppose that one may justifiably be fearful in its presence. No matter where you find fear, nor from what point of view you approach it, clean thinking always destroys its justification.

Fear because of numbers exhibits in three phases: Fear of the Crowd Hostile, Fear of the Crowd Human merely, Fear of the Crowd Critical — the mob, the mass, the audience, the public. We take up these varieties in their order.

The crowd critical furnishes audience and builds public opinion. The human mass exerts a physical and a psychical influence toward which some organizations always, and most organizations now and then, are antipathetic. The hostile crowd is comparable to a wild animal.

But always man should stand before that crowd serene, self-poised, alert, unafraid. You are invited to make that statement a sure conviction in your soul.


Fear of a crowd may assume one or other of two forms: physical nervous excitement reacting in mind, or psychic apprehension reacting in body. In the first form excitement threatens to beget fear in the self psychic: the nervous activity may affect the sub-conscious mind and start a panic. In the second form excitement threatens to overthrow physical control and to disclose fear tending toward panic.

One aim, then, must be to get control of the nerve-centres by an instant and powerful effort of will and through the discipline of constant practice, both in thought and before the crowd itself. A second aim must be to get control of the body — hands, feet, muscles of lips, eyes, nose,— secured, again, by will and thought. In the presence of danger, psychic fear-action tends to express physically, and physical fear-action tends to react psychically — in either case increasing the fear-feeling. You, therefore, wish to master the physical and psychic signs of fear before these master you, or, in order that they may not master you.

Now, voluntary will-action is always preceded by idea in the conscious self. The governing idea in the subconscious self is self-preservation — protection of the individual. This idea takes care of automatic and reflex will-actions, as, eye-winking, dodging, assumption of defensive attitudes, and the like. All these, together with physiological processes, even the wars of the phagocytes in the blood against hostile organisms and substances, are efforts of subconscious will, for the will is the man, the man is will.

When you will to do a thing, this is because an idea has arisen in mind which suggests the action involved. You do not think thoughts; thoughts think themselves. You can will to engage in the activity of thinking further about some given thing that has occurred to you, but you cannot will to think any given thought, for when you seem to do so, the thought is already before you. You can will to stop thinking about a given thing, but the will-act here is preceded by the idea of inhibiting a given thought or line of thinking. You see, then, that you are able to inhibit thoughts.

You do not, furthermore, create thoughts; thoughts emerge in mind. You cannot destroy thoughts; you can simply stop thinking along a given line of thought. Here also idea precedes will-action.

When a given idea becomes strong enough — to do a thing, to think about a thing already in mind, or to stop thinking about such a thing or along a given line, you act, and when you so act you simply let the idea have its way in suggestion of action. Then the expression of the idea — in further thinking or in cessation of a given line of thought, or in the doing of some act —takes care of itself. You do not have to carry out that expression; the expression carries out itself. If, for example, you yield to the idea of moving your arm, the arm-movement follows; you do not trouble yourself with the process. The will does not move the arm, the will lets the idea move the arm. Thus with all your mental and physical actions. The will is idea become dynamic (or ruling). The will is the man because the man is thought— a complex of thought — constantly going over from a mere ideally static condition to a practically dynamic state. We note —

Elements of Physical Fear. The nervous excitement of the first phase of fear above mentioned is due to a psychic state which is primarily nothing but a complex of ideas, as follows: (a) The Idea of Danger;
(b) The Idea of Injury;
(c) The Idea of Weakness;
(d) The Idea of Flight.

The idea of weakness and the idea of injury (or suffering), combining together, constitute a feeling.

The physical distress and activity caused by fear are all results of such idea-complex working with-out restraint and upsetting poise through nervous disturbance. The idea of danger becomes a complex thought-action among nerves, emotions in the mind, quivering of the lips, distention of the nostrils, dilation of the eyes, quickening of the heart action, backsetting of the blood, retreat of the mouth secretions, hasting or retarding of the breath, weakening of the muscles. The bare idea of danger multiplies with wonderful rapidity into just this complex brood of mere thoughts. So far as the fear is concerned, there is absolutely nothing here but unreasoning, unchecked, fecund thought — and will in the sense above indicated.

The subconscious idea of self-preservation invades the conscious mind, and the subconscious will erupts out of its field into that of self-control, and so stampedes the conscious will. Thus, what appears to be automatic or reflex is really result of pure will considered as the dynamic of thought. What seems to be without will or against will is simply will running riot under the increasing spur of idea left free to breed after its own kind, or is simply rioting thought unchecked by will under the sway of reason.

This idea is primarily self-preservation. If that idea is controlled by the idea of reason-mastery, it serves its purpose fully.

Secondarily, however, that idea breeds many others if it is not controlled, among which is the notion that danger is something to feel afraid of. The moment this idea—"to feel afraid of"— is conceded to be legitimate or is given freedom, that moment all the processes just noted begin to arise.

Always, then, fear has to be met by idea and will — by the idea of will-power and the idea of control. Fear is wrong idea and will gone wrong. It must be met by right idea and will come right.

Idea and will of self-preservation are right in themselves. The right and the wrong here depend on the meaning of self and the meaning of self-preservation. Let us observe:

With the emphasis of meaning on body, the coward has his invitation. The idea of self-preservation is then body-preservation.

With the emphasis of meaning on the psychic self (the inner self), courage has its invitation. Self-preservation is then preservation of that which nothing material can hurt.

With the emphasis of meaning on now-preservation of any value less than the true inner self, the idea of danger cooperates to beget and spread fear.

With the emphasis of meaning on long-run preservation of the true inner or higher self, the idea of danger suggests self-control and facing and dealing with danger, and begets indifference to all things having power only to injure body or present material conditions. This analysis brings us to certain regimes which are of vital importance.

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