1. Buddhist

The Origins of Fear

It is commonly thought that fear is a natural human condition.   One points to the “flight or fight” reaction of primitive man or moving your hand from flame, and finds in those reactions the evidence of fear being present in humans from the beginning.

I disagree.   Flight and moving one’s hand from a flame is not evidence of fear.   It is evidence of a rational calculation of risk and taking action on that risk.   Indeed, we find the very same reaction in animals, although in animals we call it instinct rather than reason.   But that is not the subject of this post.

Fear is an emotion.   It is defined as a distressing agitation of feelings brought on by impending danger or pain, real or imagined.

Why do I think that primitive man did not experience fear?  In studies and accounts I’ve read over the years, the norm observation is that aboriginal people* exhibit no fear, regardless what is confronting them.   Moreover, they are gracious.   And they smile and laugh easily.   I recently watched the classic documentary Nanook of the North.   I know this documentary was staged, but it nevertheless graphically depicts the life of these aboriginal people.   There is an innocence and spirit to them which cannot be found today.

It is normally thought that fear and the other negative emotions are a natural consequence of man being able to think, having a more developed brain than animals.  Yet although aboriginal people have the same brain as modern man, they do not seem to experience fear.

Why is that?  One often hears the phrase “noble” or “innocent” savage to describe the fact that aboriginal people tend to be as a rule happy and exhibit no fear or any of the other negative emotions that are so common to modern man.

But while they may be innocent of the modern world and therefore are able to be noble, they certainly were well aware of the dangers in their world which they faced daily.   So why did they not experience the emotion of fear when faced with these dangers?

I believe it is in their similarity to animals in the way they raised their young that we can find the reason why they have no fear, and discover thus the origin of fear.   I have  often used the following description of the difference between animal birthing and modern human birthing.

“Birth, being thrust out of the womb, has to be a scary experience. When an animal is born, it is typically licked all over by the mother and is always next to the mother’s warmth until weaned. But when a baby is born, at least since it is slapped on the behind, washed by a stranger, rolled up in a blanket and given to its mother to be held and fed before being put in a basinet by itself. Not a nurturing environment.

“When a child is born, he has four basic needs:  food, freedom from pain, warmth/nurturing, and physical security. These are the four irreducible needs of all human beings.  In particular, a baby’s need for nurturing, for unconditional love, is almost without limit. So from the moment of its birth, a baby finds that its needs are not met, and the first seeds of insecurity are sown.

Beyond early childhood, aboriginal children were raised much as young animals are raised . . .  communally.  Thus they played together with other children from an early age, they were watched over by all adults, not just their mother, and they practiced through their games basic, necessary, functions of life.   From the very start, the “I” of the child was more an “i,” and all thoughts were in the context of “we.”

There is security in “we.”  That is why the tribe mentality, us v them, that Trump fostered has proven so powerful.   

And so aboriginal people, both in the way they were cared for after birth and the manner in which they were raised, grow up feeling secure and strong, knowing their place and value in their communal society.   Fear was not part of their psychic vocabulary.   

We, on the other hand, have created a competitive life-system where insecure people raise insecure children who become insecure adults who . . .     It is a destructive cycle that breeds fear and anxiety.  And that in turn causes people to act violently and inflict cruelties large and small.   As Pogo said, “We have met the enemy and he is us.”

For the sake of our children, for the sake of the world, we need to return to a more natural relationship between mother and child, especially until the child is weaned.   Because adults give voice to the wounded child within them, one can safely say that our country and the world is the dysfunctional place it is because of our experiences as babies and young children.
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*I use the word aboriginal not as a synonym for indigenous, but in an anthropological sense, denoting a simple, often hunting-and-gathering, village-oriented communal society.   Many such societies may make up a tribe or a people, but the societal unit is the village commune.   This is in contrast to indigenous people such as the Inca and Aztec who developed complex civilizations that were not communal.

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