Why We Fear Future Events
( Originally Published Early 1900's )
When, now, the usual operation of the two laws noted, and of the habits associated therewith, are interrupted in one's consciousness, a general feeling of discomfort arises because there is then opposition to the "set" of things in personal life. Speaking by and large, interference with satisfaction in habit and initiative appears —
1. In a pronounced recognition of presently un-known or of always unknowable conditions;
2. In a pronounced feeling of inadequacy.
Satisfaction must be broken when you confront: A — A vast unknown time; B — A vast unknown change in life; C — A vast unknown ending of life; D — And satisfaction disappears in a pronounced feeling of inadequacy, of inability to cope with things, known or unknown.
Such interference with satisfaction is an element of confusion among natural functions and those states of quiescence and comfort which accompany a nervous system and a bundle of activities that ought to mean, "all good," and, therefore, ought to report in a consciousness, "all well." Before the looming unknown and the object or condition concerning which you can-not feel able,— adequate,— ordinary satisfaction of life in itself is disturbed, upset, possibly destroyed.
The raising within us of a recognition of the now-unknown or the always-unknowable is equivalent to the inducement of a feeling of inability-to-cope-with. The normal body and mind have satisfaction in themselves because they are normal, and so, in the common run of things, are usually adequate — carry a feeling of ability-courage. But the huge unknown and the physically or psychically overwhelming run amuck with the habits of satisfaction and courage, so that this opposition begets awe, uneasiness, apprehension, fright, terror,— some phase of the fear-feeling.
An encouraging truth, however, appears at this point. We say that "familiarity breeds contempt." By so much as you become accustomed to the conditions or objects which set up internal opposition to the laws and habits noted, by so much do the emphasis of recognition of the unknown and the feeling of inadequacy lose more or less in depth and edge. Thus the adventurer ceases to regard unknown possibilities with concern, and the soldier becomes "case-hardened" to danger and odds and death. Thus, too, the mountaineer learns to look upon lofty heights without excitement, and the sailor holds himself sternly to confronting of tempest and wave. The fact is, here, that life has re-adjusted itself, and, finding itself intact, has resumed the habits of satisfaction and adequacy-feeling or courage..
A GREAT TRUTH thus appears: You may so accustom yourself to the idea of meeting the unknown and to believing in your ability to cope with great powers, as to acquire, on a higher level, the old habits of satisfaction — sense of well-being — and assurance of ability, of confidence and of courage.
Previous experience shows that you have accomplished this readjustment again and again. Some unknown condition or object has lost its power permanently to induce discomfort of mind. The following also has been true in your case. Some great difficulty, danger, reality, has only brought out your unsuspected abilities. You have confronted the Jordan and found it out, the Red Sea and crossed over.
This fact should be used to inspire within you an uplift-feeling before the idea of anything unknown, anything overwhelming.
Nevertheless, we must here modify a little. If the readjustment were literally possible in the full sense, experience would deprive of all fear all men who have had half a life's existence. The truth is, however, that the age of fear is the noon or afternoon of life, so far as fears concern the unknown and the overwhelming. Youth is not the time of fears — for then the habit of satisfaction in well-being is so active and pronounced that almost invincible courage obtains. The two paragraphs preceding this, then, may stand as invitations and teachers, yet leave much undisposed of in our problem of fear.