A surfer and writer by the name of Jaimal Yogis has written a great book that is part of my summer reading list. His book, “The Fear Project,” (2013, Rodale), examines the most basic instinct of living organisms. One of the major points of the book is that without a properly working, instinctive fear mechanism for protection, we might not get the chance to experience any of our other basic instincts. Fear alerts us, protects us and enables the clichéd fight-or-flight response, and as such, fear can be our best friend.
On the down side, fear can also be one of our worst enemies, especially as societal creatures.
On the very day that I was reading Yogis’ chapter about conducting fear research while diving with great white sharks in the Pacific, the photo of a five-foot dead shark washed up on the beach on Sullivan’s Island happened to go viral. I saw the shark photo on Facebook, received it in my email from friends and it was texted to my phone by someone out of state. It was obvious that this shark photo had set off the old fear mechanism of a lot of people. At first, I replied to my social media friends that we locals plant at least one of those shark photos every summer to help alleviate crowding at our beaches during peak summer months. Then, with the prompting of Yogis’ writing, I started taking note of all the fear alarms that were going off around me:
Nationally, TV news networks were bombarding us with threats of civil unrest in the aftermath of the Zimmerman verdict.
Elsewhere in South Carolina, there was the tragic ocean drowning of three victims in Beaufort County who were caught in a rip current and perished despite the fact that they had a flotation device with them.
Locally, the TV “storm team” was reminding us how bad the weather has been and will continue to be.
In my own neighborhood, I received notice that I had been fined by a neighborhood watchman because a car remained parked on the front street in front of my house overnight because my driveway was already full.
Why all this fear? Doesn’t it look like our lives are being ruled by it? Is this why prescription drugs for anxiety and stress-related symptoms are so prevalent?
Why does the weather report come from a “storm team” rather than from just plain old friendly weather experts?
Why do people see one picture of a dead five-foot shark on the beach and send it to everyone they know as a warning? How many people in this entire state have ever known a single person who has had a run-in with a shark – preferably a live one?
And what about this horrible parking incident in front of my house – what’s there to fear about one car being parked in front of the house overnight because people are enjoying being together on the coast in the summertime? Does my neighborhood watchman fear that property values will decline or that violence will increase because nice people like to get together, and my drive way happens to be small? (Note: it was at the end of a cul-de-sac, not out on a busy through -street.)
It is sad to think that whether in the water, patrolling the neighborhood or watching the weather, people in our society are being controlled by fear. Sure, bad things sometimes happen, but most of the time, they do not. Life is good.
Yogis offers wisdom from Alfred Hitchcock: “There is no terror in the bang, only in the anticipation of it.”
Will Haynie has published more than 400 oped columns as a feature columnist for the Asheville Citizen-Times and the Hendersonville (N.C.) Times-News. His niche is as a humorous conservative. Find him on Twitter at @willhaynie or email him at Haynie.firstname.lastname@example.org.