Few words in the English dictionary can evoke such an emotional response like the word fear. It is, after all, one of the primary motivators in humans. We are naturally inclined to defend ourselves, to impose limitations upon our bodies and minds, and to avoid risks. These responses are unavoidable in humans, which is why I believe we place such reverence on those who are fearless. Individuals who can push aside their innate feelings and go on to inspire, lead, and create change are those who characterize fearlessness.
What is natural in humans is natural in society. After all, society is simply any number of individuals grouping together for their shared interests. Especially so in a democracy like ours, where society’s collective opinions and decisions are expressed through voting. However, just as we can campaign and vote on progress, change, tradition, and freedom, we can also campaign and vote out of fear.
It is time to overcome this trend. As a society, our concerns manifest themselves and fester into dangerous ideas and policies that reinforce those same fears. Looking at this election and some of the rhetoric brought forth by both sides, it is easy to see the culmination of fear and how it turns into misguided policy.
As Americans, we love freedom. I believe it forms an integral part of our cultural character, whether we know it or not. Our nation was built on conquering our fears and exploring new frontiers. When our forefathers acted in rebellion, they knew that they faced certain death should they lose. When young men stormed the beaches of Normandy to fight tyranny, they knew they could very well never come back. When men and women of every color and creed marched on Washington in the 1960’s to demand their civil rights, they knew they could be beaten, imprisoned, or killed. When we launched a man to the moon in the harsh vacuum of space, we didn’t do it because it was easy. Instead, as President Kennedy put it, we did it because it was hard, and it served to challenge us.
While the list of American virtues is too long to put into words, these instances showed that Americans, no matter their background, ultimately want freedom for themselves and their fellow man. Americans want to achieve great things and push society towards progress. It is our natural state, but it only came from overcoming our fears.
When we tune into the news, it is easy to become engrossed by the injustice that pervades our world. It can at times seem that good news comes few and far between the bad news. Fear is only further exacerbated by a panel of talking heads offering unfounded speculation and ratcheting public fears in the name of ratings. Politicians and public officials drum up rhetoric about our decline as a nation, a degradation of our standing in the world, and a diminished scope of opportunity for working Americans. When the world experiences another tragedy or is confronted with a man-made or natural crisis, it is a measure of that society in how it deals with that problem.
It is natural to feel sympathy, to question, to become angry, and to become afraid in the face of everything we are up against. Conversely, it also easy to capitalize and exploit those feelings for personal gain through the politics of fear and personification of demagoguery. When we go to the polls this November, as a nation, we must weigh the heavy decision that is being presented. We must reject the politics of despair and degradation and push for progress. The uncommon character of our forefathers is what made them understand, yet still set aside, their fears in the process of creating a nation while staring down the barrel of a gun.
Through overcoming our fears and confronting them, we as individuals become stronger. In conquering those fears we also become liberated. Regardless of that fear’s rationality or irrationality, it hangs over our head as a dark cloud obstructing our view and blocking our path.
To be without fear is to be free. Ultimately, we must look to history and remember that we, as Americans, are not descended from fearful men.
-Nicholas Montalbano, Senior