The enemy is not fear, but the intimidation fear is the right dose is necessary.

There is no evidence that the public would only want stories about Rihanna if they were given some say in shaping the editorial agenda of news organisations [GALLO/GETTY]

Here’s a little of the answer. It is a truism of liberal reform that education empowers. For almost every question of social improvement, more education is the good safe answer. But maybe the relationship between power and education works both ways. While education empowers, power educates. In a society where inequalities of wealth and prestige are justified in large part by inequalities of knowledge, maybe that’s what’s really frightening. For what is the liberal reformer to do, if people take matters into their own hands and find that they are more than capable of government?

Since the Second World War we have tried leaving important and difficult decisions in the hands of the experts of the regulatory state or to the play of market forces. The financial crisis and the bungling response have made both options seem absurd. This might seem like a time to start thinking seriously about democracy. So why are we so convinced that open deliberation between civic equals will produce worse results?

At the moment corporate executives, scientists and politicians handle the oh-so serious business of healthcare research, far from the gaze of the supposedly foolish and incompetent public. Secure in their technocratic insulation they fritter away billions in mutually enjoyable and rewarding ways. The arrangement seems almost divine in its reckless indifference to the common good. The companies’ “hidden business model” remains hidden because the state doesn’t want to look for it. In a recent note to me the Department of Health confirmed that it “does not currently request any information from companies regarding the way the R&D allowances are spent”

The enemy is not fear, but the intimidation. Fear spurs you to dig for the extraordinary within you and achieve it! An overriding fear that afflicts most of us is the fear of being average. 

A little worry is not a bad thing! Do not tell a chronic worrier not to worry; he cannot help himself. Instead, teach him to channelise his worry into more positive directions!

There are two kinds of people in the world. Those who get depressed and buckle under trouble and those who get up and get going, dealing with one issue after the other, one baby step at a time. The troubled and the not-so-troubled. The latter are not any less beset with problems, they just deal with them better. For, everyone has issues to deal with. It’s another matter that while some may be worrying about where to get their next meal, others may worry about what to do with the excess food on the table. Yes, life is not always fair. So it is only right that we are fair to ourselves.

It is a known fact that worrying is the root cause of all anxiety disorders and the first step towards serious depressions. Though a worrier needn’t necessarily have more problems than others, he worries that he does! Telling him not to worry, to stop thinking about problems, just makes it worse for a chronic worrier! For worry he must — about problems, existing and imagined, issues in the present and possible ones in the future, and all the diseases he may or may not have. Unfortunately, worry cannot be turned on or off like a tap, nor is it an emotion that can be assuaged with pep talk. Worrying is a habit, a state of mind that cannot be easily done away with. At best, it can be understood and channelised in a more fruitful direction.

Those who worry as a habit tend to look at life as something that needs to be understood thoroughly and dealt with through strategy. They view life as a battleground that they need to be prepared for, with proper armoury, weapons and strategy. In an experiment both worriers and non-worriers were exposed to threatening images. At first look, a greater increase in anxiety levels was noted in the nonworriers than in the worriers who were already tense when shown the image. Upon repeated exposure, the non-worriers lost their fear, while no lessening of anxiety was noticed in the worrier. This led experts to conclude that a worrier is not willing to accept emotional learning and refuses to adapt. A worrier thinks more and feels less.

A typical worrier will fret about a situation, think about all possible negative aspects and try to circumvent them before they become a reality. So a worrying mother will think of all possible evils that could befall her child, be it kidnapping, rape, an accident or a fight. Then she will try to circumvent the disasters even before they are a remote possibility. Another person may worry about not having adequate domestic help, and in the next instant start worrying about the possibility of getting in a criminal as a cook or driver!

So, if a worrier cannot stop worrying, let’s see how he can worry better, more effectively! It would help if a worrier identified and focused on those worries that can be dealt with. For instance, “Will I reach office on time?” is a more welcome worry than, “Will I be chucked out of my job someday soon?” You can do something about the first, but nothing about the latter. Second, we tend to worry a lot about the whys and wherefores. It would be helpful to just accept that there are many things in life we will never understand, so just accept them. Is God punishing you because you did something wrong? Are you likely to die of cancer? Will you outlive your spouse? All these are useless worries. So just focus on worries you can act upon! It may help to set aside a time, maybe half an hour every day, for worrying and even writing down your worries, suggest experts. This gives you an idea of how many things you worry about and enable you to sift between the valid worries and the useless ones. This would also give the worrier a sense of control over his worries, which he lacks otherwise.

A worrier actually feels better after having worried, so this experiment would help him achieve his catharsis and so hopefully be free of worries for rest of the day! In the movie, Inception, Leonardo di Caprio rightly praises the power of negative emotions. He says while planning the ‘dream’ heist, “Positive emotion comes from negative emotion all the time. We are all looking for reconciliation and catharsis…” In some ways, the worrier is better off than someone who doesn’t invest enough thought into every aspect of life. The happy-go-lucky non-worrier puts too much faith in Destiny, life and people. This may prevent him from taking adequate precautions, and so actually be more likely to get into trouble than the chronic worrier. So a little worrying is a good thing. However, a person who worries too much will not just drive himself to illness, but also be a source of constant irritation and depression to those around! So let’s all put on our worrying caps – for part of the day at least!

To score in any test or to be called ‘one of the crowd’ is anathema to our very being. Nobody wants to be an “also was…” and most of our struggles are directed towards proving how different we are from ‘others’. The internet is inundated with bloggers expressing this fear; everyone wants to be extraordinary, nobody wants to live an ordinary life and die unsung.

One blogger says he doesn’t want to “blend into the crowd, not be a person people meet and immediately forget”…. Another puts it more graphically, “Living the average life everyone else does – ****ing the same girl for the rest of your life, having kids, getting married, 9-5 job, sitting at home in front of the TV, getting fat, doing the same **** week in -week out. Are you OK with slipping into that category and settling with it?” And yet how different can one be? As my son asked a couple of days ago, “Mom, why is everybody’s  life  the same?  We are all born, learn to talk/walk, go to school, college, get a job, raise a family, and then die….?”

My first instinct was to give him the spiel of those who leave ‘footprints on the sands of time,’ but then I never really have understood how it would help a person to be remembered after he is dead and gone!? And if you believe in reincarnation, can you not visualize a scenario where a great historical figure is reborn as an “average” man and forced to read up about himself and memorise the dates he made noteworthy in his past birth! What irony, and one he wouldn’t even be aware of! What price then his having been “above average” or “different”? And so, instead, I spoke to my son about the need to make a difference, not because one would be remembered for it, but because it gives one immense satisfaction to have lived a life that is worthwhile, one which would help us reach the higher echelons of spirituality. How different would the history of the Ambanis and perhaps that of the Indian industrial scene have been had Dhirubhai not chosen to follow his dream and take it up as a mission! As the Ambani brothers said at their recent reunion at Chorwad on Dhirubhai’s 80th birth anniversary, the biggest lesson they learnt from their father was that if you take up some work, take it up with a mission and don’t leave it half way! ”The struggle should not be to crawl up to a position that is above average, but to do the best one can by oneself and by others. The fight is not to leave others behind, but to achieve one’s own full potential.

The crime is not being perceived as below average or just average, but to know that you are capable of much more and yet not reaching out for it! After all what meaning does below or above average hold if the ‘average’ was to be pulled up several notches? What happens if ALL are extraordinary? Then the average person becomes extraordinary, and wouldn’t that be your goal too? Strive for the extraordinary within yourself and if you achieve that, you would automatically be far above average — an extraordinary human being, without even having thought about it!

Consider this gem I stumbled upon — “When I walk through what scares me, I am walking through what is stopping me from getting or going where I want to be…” When I asked my facebook friends their worst fears, here is what they confessed to fearing most —  mediocrity, complacency, not being able to break one’s comfort zone, not making a name before dying,  not meeting expectations, failure or ignominy.  Says one, “There is nothing attractive or desirable about being average..” Another agrees, “Being mediocre is so bland and so average. ”Most of the time what holds us down is being caught up so badly in our fears that we refuse to step outside our comfort zone and actually get down to the task of living life as it is meant to be lived! The pragmatic and wildly popular American singer-musician-actor Taylor Swift said, “I’m intimidated by the fear of being average.”  I would say that the problem is not the fear, because the fear is what helps you push yourself to standing full stature. The problem is the intimidation — being so bogged down by that fear that you do nothing about it!

How Viral Fear© Affects You Everyday.

The article below appeared in and


© 2006, Judith Acosta

Lately, when I watch the news from Capitol Hill, I am more and more often reminded of a Star Trek episode entitled “Spock’s Brain.”  In it the prerequisite nubile alien female humanoids steal Spock’s gray matter in order to save their fully automated planet. We are led to deduce that they need his brain because they don’t have brains of their own. Of course, Captain Kirk can’t let his first officer wander about witless and he leans on the aliens to release the captive, throbbing brain. After 40 minutes of back and forth, one of the alien women stamps her foot and whines, “BRAIN, BRAIN, WHAT IS BRAIN?!”

There is so little thoughtfulness on television now that when I see an interview conducted with genuine respect, time and interest in the subject matter, I am moved to tears and renewed with hope. But these Maxwell House moments are few and far between. For the most part, fear is both the medium and the message. Everything is sold by it and through it: politics, strategies, cars, insurance, medicine, homes, magazines, food, toilet tissue. It has seeped into our cells the way pollutants drip slowly and invisibly into our aquifers. You can’t always see it, you can’t always taste it, and you can’t clearly point to it. But its presence and its subtle effects are there nevertheless.

I have been working with fear and fearful people for twenty years. I was (and can still occasionally be) a fearful person. I have watched it, felt it, wrote about it, and helped heal people from it. As a result, I’ve learned a few things about fear, particularly that modern societal contagion I call viral fear.

Fact One:  Fear in the right dose is necessary.
It is a primary emotion, meaning it derives from the limbic system and is designed with the express purpose of promoting our survival, individually and as a species. It is an instantaneous response to a perceived threat. It is an interesting fact that the experience of pleasure takes upwards of 3 seconds for the brain to recognize, but fear takes literally no time at all. The reason would seem fairly clear: pleasure is nice but we don’t require it to live. Fear is essential. It tells us a train is barreling towards us on the tracks and that we need to jump out of the way–NOW!

The point here is that not all fear is bad or useless and not all threats are empty. The wise amongst us will be able to discern what is true and what is necessary. The threats being made against Jews, Christendom and Western Civilization in Al-Jazeera are not idle and it would be highly imprudent to deny or ignore them.


Fact 2:  Fear CAN be misused.
As the mystics and now the theoretical physicists have said over and over, intention manifests whether we like it or not. We, as a species, leak. When fear is manipulated as a tool to promote an individual’s or group’s agenda, it is grossly misused and the individuals towards whom it is directed have a couple options, neither of them good.
1. Because at some level we can recognize the existence of those ulterior motives, we do not sincerely believe we are endangered and become inured to the adrenal sirens. We go numb under the relentless battery of wave after wave of red alerts that no longer hold any meaning. This is the new version of the boy who cried wolf-the newsman who cried code orange.
2. We become so afraid, are so constantly in a state of terror, that we become paralyzed. This is what I think most Americans have unwittingly done. You can see that particular state of mind demonstrated in the amount of TV we watch, in the amount of food we eat, and in the amount of passive entertainment we require and demand. And always in increasing levels of intensity and quantity. We are a nation of sensation-addicts.

The unfortunate result of both of the aforementioned options is that fear flatlines us when we need to be alert, empowered, conscious and competent. We need to be able to act appropriately when there is a real threat. The irony in all this is that the very purpose of fear-to inspire us to life-saving action-is diminished and even extinguished when it is thrown about like so much confetti.

Fact 3:   The Fearful Need Leadership.
It is axiomatic in trauma treatment and crisis intervention that in a state of shock, panic, or anxiety individuals overwhelmingly respond positively to benevolent authority. There is nothing more calming, more hopeful to an accident victim than the appearance of a man or woman in uniform. Authority takes the wounded, the fearful, the confused by the hand and says, “This way, follow me,” leading them AWAY from danger.

Most people will agree that the hallowed halls of congress have been woefully low on leadership in recent history. No one can agree on anything except the need to spin fear. Winston Churchill, President Roosevelt (both Teddy and Franklin), Golda Meir, Ghandi-these were leaders. Whether one agreed with their politics or not, it was indisputable that they had not only the charisma but the character to lead people through and OUT OF a crisis.

This is not a political or partisan issue. It is a cultural one. It infects our advertising, our medical practice, and our schools as much as it permeates our politics. Whether we are aware of it or not Americans are walking a tightrope over an enormous chasm. With both arms held straight out, we totter painfully gripping that fine line with bare feet. In one hand we hold freedom from harm and in the other we grasp freedom itself.  Fear is a powerful and painful motivator, as it well should be. But when misused and overused we are in danger of losing balance when we need that balance most.

Not so long ago I was involved in a group arguing for reform of the British media. The participants were self-consciously liberal and progressive academics and journalists, the kinds of people who would be horrified at the suggestion that that they were in any way prejudiced. When I set out some ideas about how a programme of reform might be structured I didn’t expect to raise many eyebrows. But as soon as I said that citizens should have some meaningful say in how the money they give to support journalism is spent, the response was surprising. One of those present exclaimed in horror, “But they will just want stories about Rihanna!” The contents of the public sphere are far too important to be left to the public, it seems.

Last week, a friend sent me a link to a 2010 column by the science journalist Ben Goldacre. In passing Goldacre mentioned “an excellent suggestion” from Rupert Sheldrake, that “maybe 1 per cent, maybe 0.01 per cent of the total UK research budget could be given to the public, so that they could decide what their research obsessions were”. Goldacre described Sheldrake as someone who “believes that pets are psychic”, which does less than justice to one of the more interesting critics of scientific orthodoxy.

What struck me most, though, was Goldacre’s confident contempt for what he was sure the public would want to fund. “Obviously most of the money would get spent on psychic pets, and which vegetables cure cancer,” he wrote. (In fairness, he did allow himself to hope that a little of this publicly controlled money would be used to fund “good quality robust research to find out whether exams are getting easier”, his own preoccupation at the time.)

Claims about the public

There is no evidence that the public would only want stories about Rihanna if they were given some say in shaping the editorial agenda of news organisations. There is no evidence that people would spend most of any research funds they controlled on psychic pets and cancer-curing vegetables. I am sure that neither of these people would dream of making a similar, unfounded generalisations about any group of adults in society. Imagine for a moment the uproar if they did. But they are happy to assert that the public as a whole is so witless that it cannot decide how to spend its own money.

You can see why. Claims about the public aren’t claims about the speaker and his or her peers. They are claims about them. Not you dear reader, or the people you know, but the ones you don’t know, the ones out there. Anyone who objects to the slander can be assured that they weren’t the intended target. They aren’t obsessed with Rihanna or therapeutic vegetables, of course they aren’t. It’s the others. They are the ones who can’t be trusted with the power to decide.

“There is no evidence that the public would only want stories about Rihanna if they were given some say in shaping the editorial agenda of news organisations.”

The effect is subtly but substantially conservative. The sins of the dominant classes in society are neatly transferred onto a mass that will not answer back, that cannot answer back, being defined in terms of its ignorance and incoherence. And yet, consider the world that exists, rather than the democratic dystopia so often imagined.

In this real world, the public don’t pay photographers to follow Rihanna around or pay journalists to make things up about her. The people who own and run newspapers do that. The public don’t spend huge amounts of public money on inane or useless scientific research. The major recipients of government subsidies do that.

Donald Light and Joel Lexchin have recently written in the British Medical Journal about “the hidden business model” of pharmaceutical companies that “centres on turning out scores of minor variations” to existing drugs. The results of this “hidden business model” are not hard to predict. According to a number of independent reviews, at least 85 per cent “of all new drugs provide few or no clinical advantages for patients”.

Power and education

Yet the sector responsible for this lousy track record continues to receive massive research and development subsidies from the unwitting taxpayer. In Britain in 2009, the last year for which figures are available, the National Health Service gave pharmaceutical companies £1.9 billion to help fund innovation. That kind of money could provide lavish support for all manner of experiments and inquiries, which may or may not meet with Ben Goldacre’s approval. Rupert Sheldrake could be given his own institute and there would be hundreds of millions left over for prizes to reward the inventors of clinically useful treatments, as Light and Lexchin propose.