Fear is a terrible thing. Fear is corrosive, eating away our confidence, sapping our creativity, tunneling under our motivation. Fear alienates us from contentment, and stands in the way of true happiness. The power of pathological fear is so great as to prevent sufferers putting one foot in front of the other. The writer Franz Kafka, who spent his life in fear of his own father, wrote him a letter saying ‘I could not tell you I was afraid of you, precisely because of that self-same fear’.
With the recent threat to air travel, we are once again gripped by fear, by events imposed on our lives by malevolence. No point here in talking about factions – who did this, who opposed that, what are the policies of the nations of the world in regard to events in the middle east or elsewhere. This isn’t about global events; it’s about our everyday existence, about how we move forward in our lives. And we’re not short of pessimists. The poet Adam Gibbs has written:
Villagers scurry like ants at the howl of the chimera and the griffon’s call.
Nowhere to hide from the hydra, the centaur, or the dragon
Man-eaters one and all.
Gibbs seems to have a possible answer, but the promise is a vain one:
One man alone will stand his ground and, like a mountain, bars the way. The stance, the face, the attitude all say he fears nothing but fear. We visited his grave today.
Is it all bad news? Is the ‘gloom resting on the prospect of futurity’ not to be dispelled, not to be ‘expressed’? I think we can do better than this. On the day the terrorist news broke, I was in a busy London airport. What struck me, amongst the dense, milling crowds of people all trying to board the flights that had not been cancelled, was the enormous goodwill they radiated. They were patient, good-natured, good-humoured, calm, respectful of each other, eager to help others in difficulty.
It was as though they all tacitly, instinctively acknowledged that the real answer to threats is to brush them aside, to prove, by getting on with their lives, that they would not be cowed into submission. It was as though they were listening to that other voice speaking about ‘fearing nothing but fear’, the voice of Brother Franklin D. Roosevelt when he exhorted the American people to greater deeds:
This great Nation will endure as it has endured, will revive and will prosper. So, first of all, let me assert my firm belief that the only thing we have to fear is fear itself – nameless, unreasoning, unjustified terror which paralyzes needed efforts.
It is important in this that we refrain from knee-jerk reactions. We must try not to hit back, by word, or thought, or deed, however much we need to defend ourselves. ‘Avoiding fear on the one hand, and rashness on the other’ was never more appropriate than it is today. Kirk MacNulty in The Way of the Craftsman sums it up in words we might like to examine. Referring to the twin dangers of the poignard and the cable-tow, he says:
The dangers associated with rashness and reticence are such that to avoid one is to increase the risk of the other … the symbol provides instructions on the attitude appropriate for one about to undertake interior work … the need for this sort of balance between action and stillness will characterise the new mason’s entire career …
and thus a steady, purposeful, gentle perseverance is required. It really is no accident that Freemasonry gives us the tools to sustain us in times when we may begin to doubt the triumph of good over evil. The second of the three great pillars supporting a Freemason’s lodge is the Doric pillar, strength ‘to support us under all our difficulties’, accompanied by the Ionic, wisdom, ‘to conduct us in all our undertakings’, so that the third may come into play, the Corinthian, beauty ‘to adorn the inward man’.
There is no darkness so black that prevents us moving towards the light. There is no slavery or submission so great that we cannot set out on the road to freedom. There is no ladder, no winding staircase so steep that we cannot ascend. There is no veil so obscure that we cannot penetrate it. And there is no evil so intractable that we cannot tread it beneath our feet, and lift our eyes to a brighter horizon.
No passion so effectually robs the mind of all its powers of acting and reasoning as fear.