The only thing we have to fear is fear itself – President Franklin Roosevolt
Fear has been described as “a distressing emotion aroused by impending danger or pain, whether the threat may be real or imagined” or it could be “the anticipation of the possibility that something unpleasant will occur”.
According to Psychology Today, fear is a vital response to physical and emotional danger and if we did not feel it, we could not protect ourselves from legitimate threats. However, we often fear situations that are far removed from life and thus hold back for no good reason.
Theo Tsaousides says fear is partly imagined and that it is this anticipatory anxiety which makes us scared because of what we imagine could happen. This imagined threat causes paralysis.
There are basically three triggers of fear ( Bodhisattya’s “Way of Life”):
- external – caused by negative experiences
- internal – associated with low level of self-confidence
- subconscious – recognized beliefs that limit your potential or question your capacity to achieve something.
In confronting fear it is important to understand what makes us afraid or scares us otherwise we would not be able to do anything about it.Julia Layton puts it this way,
“developing an understanding of what you are afraid of goes a long way towards erasing that fear.”
Although fear or being afraid is a normal brain function, it is necessary to confront fear because “fear obscures reason, intensifies emotions and makes it easier for demagogic politicians to mobilize the public on behalf of the policies they want to pursue” ( Terrorised by War on Terror – Zbigniew Brzezinski).
The Bible encourages us not to fear or be afraid.
In 2 Timothy 1:7 Paul states that God has not given us a spirit of fear and timidity, but of power, love and self discipline. In Joshua 1:6-9 the Bible exalts us to be strong and courageous, not to be afraid or discouraged for the Lord our God is with us where ever we go.
Being courageous should not be confused with denial or recklessness.
Nelson Mandela in his “Long Walk To Freedom” said courage was not the absence of fear but the triumph over it. The brave man is not he, who does not feel afraid but one who conquers that fear.
Feeling fear or being afraid should not be seen as a sign of weakness but it is how we react to this emotion that is important. The paralysis that arises from fear results in inaction and acceptance of the status quo.Henry Ford said,
“one of the greatest discoveries a man makes, one of his greatest surprises, is to find he can do what he was afraid he couldn’t do”
and Roseanne Cash sums it by stating that the key to change is to let go of fear.
How is fear manifested in our society and how can we confront it?
The world renowned Chinese general and military strategist Sun Tsu observed that the apex of achievement is to win without fighting.Through the use of coercive psychological warfare the opponent is made to surrender or otherwise abandon a fight by controlling his thinking, emotions and/or will and persuading him that resistance is futile. Coercive psychological warfare may be implemented through displays of capabilities to intimidate real or potential opponents.
In the biblical story of David and Goliath we are told that Goliath, possibly a descendant of a tribe of giants, with his impressive body armour and weapons made him look invincible.He taunted King Saul’s army and the Israelites for forty days! The Bible says King Saul and the Israelites were terrified and deeply shaken.They were truly very scared and when David offered to confront Goliath they told him not to be ridiculous because they thought there was no way he could defeat the Philistine giant.David however had a different perspective of the situation. He instead saw what was perceived to be an impossible situation from God’s point of view. David knew he had to take action dispite the display of Goliath’s strength which had intimidated the king and the people.
In the world we are often intimidated into submission by the display of power by those who want to suppress others. People are afraid of reporting criminals within their communities for fear of reprisals, female employees endure abuse for fear of losing their jobs or receiving negative publicity or ridicule and spouses live in abusive relationships for fear of losing their livelihood.
States have a monopoly on the legitimate use of force but they do not have the right to use unlimited physical force as this is restricted by universally recognized human rights and could constitute crimes against humanity ( Cassese 2003,64).
It is however not uncommon that states resort to coercion and police brutality when other tactics to prevent dissenting voices and opinions from being heard fail.Coercion or inhuman treatment, torture or extrajudicial killings can extend to the whole population resulting in a state of fear where people are afraid and look behind their shoulders before saying anything that may be construed as critical.
This “politics of fear”(Frank Furedi) makes people lose faith in themselves and are afraid to express themselves. Too often fear is used to incite more fear as a means of negative control of others for the benefit of a few ( Paul Keller – What’s going on? ).
Some of the subtle psychological techniques used to undermine the opponent’s will to fight (Dr Amina) are:
- spread of misinformation and information dominance
- attempt to humiliate
- impressive sounding rhetoric and
- fake sincerity
- fear mongering.
1.Misinformation and information dominance is an age tried method perfected in the modern world by social media and cyber warfare. Adolf Hitler was in no small measure helped to maintain his Nazi regime by the relentless manipulation of information by Hermann Goring and Dr Goebbels. Information or lack of it has the power to constrain or alter people’s emotions and habits. Dean Chang,Senior Research Fellow Asian Studies Centre in Winning Without Fighting – The Chinese Psychological Warfare Challenge, says that influencing and altering an opponent’s unconscious, implicit views enables them to become more susceptible to coercion.
Misinformation and information dominance through subtle censorship or overt or covert intimidation of the media also seeks to cut off the opponents from support of the people or to alienate them. In the modern internet age, it has become very easy to send erroneous messages to discredit an opponent.
The United States is still investigation the depth of such misinformation in the 2016 election.
By employing various strategic communication including diplomatic efforts such as foreign trips, one hopes to foster a positive national image and increase foreign sympathy and support for one’s own policies and goals and at the same time seek to isolate opponents by portraying them as unpatriotic or ill-intentioned. Recent diplomatic activity and labelling political opponents traveling abroad as unpatriotic have to be understood in this light.
2.Humiliation of an opponent is a common phenomenon, especially in warfare.
The United Nations has recognized that in some war situations, rape is used as a weapon to humiliate the population. In poltical rivalry, female opponents have also been threatened with rape in an attempt to humiliate them.
When the late Prime Minister of the Congo, Patrice Lumumba was arrested on the orders of General Mobutu, he was tied and bound like a common or dangerous criminal and thrown about in a vehicle. He was put on display in the back of a truck and crowds invited to taunt him. His subsequent assassination and that that of some of his allies was even more gruesome.
According to the Daily Maverick of 22 January 2016, Lumumba, then only 36 years old, together with Maurice Mpolo and Joseph Okito were executed by a firing squad in a forest in Katanga and their bodies were hacked to pieces and dissolved in sulphuric acid.
Many other African politicians have been humiliated in various ways to show the perceived invincibility of those in power.Dean Chang says such strategies aim to generate confusion, doubt, anxiety, fear, terror, regret and exhaustion in an opponent. They also seek to sow a sense of hopelessness.
In the struggle for Zambia’s independence it was common for the colonial government to detain political leader in various places, usually away from their home districts often without notification to their families in order to break their morale.
3.Impressive sounding rhetoric goes hand in hand with fake sincerity.
Those who have fallen victim to conmen will testify to how impressive the conman presented his case. I have been a victim myself.As a lover of dogs I was taken in by somebody who promised me choice breed puppies but for logistical reasons I had to pay upfront which I did. A year later the puppies have not materialized!
How often have people been mesmerised by impressive rhetoric and fake sincerity at election time but such promises remained unfulfilled. Perhaps one of the worst example of impressive rhetoric and fake sincerity in African politics is the story of the late Pierre Mulele who was a Minister of Education in Patrice Lumumba’s cabinet. After the assassination of Patrice Lumumba, Mulele fled the country and eventually set base in Congo Brazaville where he launched a rebel Simba movement. In 1968 Mobutu lured him out of exile by promising him amnesty. Mulele believed Mobutu’s fake sincerity and returned to Kinshasha.
Instead of amnesty he was arrested, publicly tortured and executed, his eyes pulled from their sockets, his genitals ripped off and limbs amputated one by one, all while he was alive (Wikipedia 1 October 2017).
3.Fear mongering is one of the strategies used to weaken an opponent.
One often hears statements made during election campaigns how an opponent if elected would bring disaster to the country or the community. There are stories of the selfish motives of the opponent to enrich themselves at the expense of the masses or to sell out to foreign or business interests.
The Secretary General of ANC in South Africa recently claimed that some of the people vying to replace President Zuma had the sole desire to have access to the country’s resources for personal gain. This is in the midst of the “state capture” debate. Some political opponents are labeled tribalists or having dictatorial tendencies. Support for these strategies is sometimes sought from elements within the opponent’s camp against the leadership or support for surrogate parties which align themselves to the ruling elite. This fear conditioning is a strategy to undermine the opponent’s leadership and isolate it from its base.
Why we should not fear
In order to confront fear it is imperative as Sun Tsu says:
“to know the enemy and
know yourself, you need not fear the result of a hundred battles. If you know not the enemy, for every victory gained, you will also suffer a defeat.If you know neither the enemy nor yourself, you will succumb in every battle.”
Inaction breeds doubt and fear. Action breeds confidence and courage. If you want to conquer fear do not sit home and think about it. Go out and get busy (Dale Carnegie)!
According to Eric Hoffer,you can discover what your enemy fears most by observing the means he uses to frighten you. Is it misinformation or information dominance?
Endeavour to get the correct information. Is he attempting to humiliate you? Refuse to be intimidated by humiliation. Is it impressive rhetoric or fake sincerity? Seek the truth. Is it fear mongering? Have the moral courage to act rightly in the face of opposition, ridicule,discouragement or personal loss.Indeed there is freedom when fear is gone because as Henry Ford put it, we then find that we can do what we were afraid we could not do. The great Evangelist Billy Graham said courage is contagious. When a brave man takes a stand, the spines of others are often stiffened.
In Isaiah 43:1-2 the Bible teaches us not to be afraid for God Himself has ransomed us. When we go through rivers of difficulty and fires of oppression we shall not drown or be burnt up by the flames but only if we do not go in our own strength. If we seek the Lord’s protection, all will be well.
Matthew 10:28-31 tells us not to be afraid of those who want to kill the body for they cannot destroy the soul. We should only fear God who can destroy both body and soul in hell. In Jesus there is hope and promise. The Apostle Peter in his letter of encouragement to suffering Christians (1 Peter 3:14) says it is better to suffer for doing good, if that is what God wants, than to suffer for doing wrong.
We may not be able to stop people from slandering us, trying to intimidate or humiliate us but we can deny the success in their evil ways by doing what is right.
Take that step of courage today and you will be amazed what change it will bring to you and the community.
By S.G Soneka