I know I’ve covered fear before, but after months of seeing that stupid After Earth poster it seemed time to deal with it again. What am I referring to? Why the dumbest line I have ever seen on a movie poster or in a trailer:
Fear is a choice.
I’m sorry but this is perhaps one of the dumbest things I have ever seen Hollywood say.
Fear, is an emotion. All emotions are real. They are our subconscious’ way of telling us about the trillion and one pieces of information it took in and doesn’t have time to tell you about all the information and all the calculations, so it gives you a quick assessment in the form an emotion.
If danger is real and you don’t feel fear you are either too stupid to not see the danger or insane. Fear is not a choice. How we choose to react to that fear is a choice. How much we choose to let that emotion have control is a choice. But to act as if our emotions themselves are a choice is wrong. To act as if we should in someway shut off our emotions like fear (or any and all other emotions as it appears everyone has in that movie from the trailer). Further this is endorsing insanity. It’s saying you shouldn’t have a natural reaction to danger. Courage isn’t not feeling fear (again that’s called insanity); courage is feeling fear and choosing to go forward. By saying fear, or sadness, or any emotion is a choice will eventually lead to problems because people will feel inherently inferior because they can’t control their emotions. *
Emotions are in and of themselves not necessarily positive or negative. Even anger, hate, and rage are seen in saintly figures. The question is not what emotion you feel, but are you feeling the right emotion because you understand the situation and value the right things, and are you letting the emotion take control of you to the right degree. Yes fear is not something we should usually let take hold of us…unless you’re being chased by a rabid dog, then, I suggest giving into fight or flight, because only the adrenaline that comes from the fear is going to save you. Or as Aristotle put it:
For in everything it is no easy task to find the middle, e.g. to find the middle of a circle is not for every one but for him who knows; so, too, any one can get angry–that is easy–or give or spend money; but to do this to the right person, to the right extent, at the right time, with the right motive, and in the right way, that is not for every one, nor is it easy; wherefore goodness is both rare and laudable and noble.
Nicomachean EthicsBook II, Chapter 9 1109a26-29 [Italics Added]
Emotions are neither good nor bad except when they are not in the proper degree. The degree is your choice, the emotion itself is not. Now all too often we give into certain emotions more readily (fear, anger, rage, desire) than we should.
Yes fear can be more destructive than most emotions when you give into it too much, which is why I have spoken about it before and why it must almost always be quelled when it comes up, hence the older statement that “fear is the mind killer”…but the quote comes with the point “I will face my fear” not I will simply not fear as if fear is a choice, but rather treating fear as a real thing which can be faced, dealt with, and not given into. Fear is real and isn’t a choice. The choice comes in how we deal with it.
But don’t we often say Happiness is a choice?
Yes, but we’re not referring to the temporary emotion of being happy, we’re referring to the culmination of all life worth living, Happiness with a capital H. It is part of a slipshod way of speaking that people are all too fond of. When people say we choose happiness it’s not because we choose one emotion or another, it’s because we choose thoughts and actions that cause the emotion we want over thoughts and actions that cause emotions we don’t want…but we can’t just change our emotions…we can train our brain to see certain things, and we can train it to feel certain ways, but we cannot just turn emotions off and on.
You can choose the thoughts you focus on, the situations you put yourself in and how you choose to act in those situations. But you cannot just choose how you feel.
So why is this a mediation?
Because all too often that annoying Ego of ours, our mis-creation that keeps trying to keep us from returning to God, using our propensity for emotions in the wrong degree against us. When in a frustrating situation it whispers to us to focus on the anger, when we are in a situation it nudges us to be centered on the fear, when under stress it tells us to focus on desires we don’t necessarily need (like stress eating). The emotions themselves are not creations of the Ego, but the Ego wants us to focus on them because by focusing on these emotions at the wrong place and at the wrong time to the wrong degree keeps us from being centered and attaining Happiness. And then as a coup de grâce the Ego tells you it was all your fault because fear is a choice, which just makes you feel even worse about yourself.
So for the next two weeks I want you to analyze your emotions at least once a day (If you can find three or four times a day to do a review even better). Ask yourself if during every incident if you focused on the right emotion for the situation and to the right degree. Was there an emotion you felt that you didn’t focus on, but would have resulted in a more positive outcome? Did you focus on the right emotion but too little or too much? The first step to changing how you react to your emotions is recognize when and where you’re making a misstep, it’s a long process, even a lifetime isn’t enough to perfect it. But the first step is to look at your emotions and see if you are reacting properly. And that is your mediation for the next two weeks.
*I could probably insult another work of science fiction here for depicting a race without emotions…but I’ve beat up on that franchise enough lately, and will say that at least they gave the excuse that this particular race’s emotions are typically so powerful and erratic that it was the choice between suppressing them entirely or giving into the chaos. Not a great excuse, but at least it’s better than “Fear is a choice.”