There is no greater motivator than fear.
When we are living in a state of fear – of loss, of not being enough, or of not being loved for who we are – it stunts our capacity to develop a healthy identity.
There’s a quote by Mister Rogers (and I can’t emphasize enough the wisdom that came from this one human being) that especially touches on this idea: “Knowing that we can be loved exactly as we are gives us all the best opportunity for growing into the healthiest of people.”
When a person feels as though they have to behave or perform a certain way in order to receive love and acceptance, it sends a subconscious message so deep that it escapes awareness, sometimes forever:
Who you are isn’t good enough.
When a person feels as though they have to behave or perform a certain way in order to receive love and acceptance, it sends a subconscious message so deep that it escapes awareness, sometimes forever: who you are isn’t good enough.
The result? Ending up in a life situation that devalues your authentic self because, essentially, you have no idea who you are or what you want. And, unless you live in a perpetual state of denial, it’s all going to blow up one day – or maybe it won’t.
Hopefully, it does.
An aunt told me once that she most wanted her children to know themselves, and the older I get, the more I see the truth in her words. But I’m going to raise it one ante: I hope my children grow to know and love themselves. Which means, my task, as the parent, is to demonstrate this by striving to know and love them, as they are – not what they can do, how they behave, or who they could be one day. But who they are right now, in this moment. (Thank you, God, for setting this example!)
Because the ironic part of it is this: If parents don’t love their children as they are today, then they have little to no chance of becoming better, more evolved human beings down the road. Not without tremendous personal work, anyway. And isn’t our ultimate goal, as parents, to facilitate the development of responsible citizens, who make positive contributions to society?
In order to grow and take healthy risks, people need to feel secure in that, no matter what they do, there will be a safe place to land, should they fail. While there are parents out there who will support their children – literally, no matter what they do! – there are many parents who have it backwards, as in: do as a say, act as expected, be the best you can be, and I will love you in return. But, of course, as flight attendants direct at the beginning of air travel, parents need to first attend to their own safety and security before being able to effectively attend to their children’s safety and security.
I guess that’s where our biggest challenge lies: In order to love and accept others, we must first love and accept ourselves. As we are.
If you’re still with me, follow me down the rabbit hole…
Our American identity is also shaped by our fears.
President Franklin D. Roosevelt spoke these now-iconic words: “The only thing we have to fear is fear itself.” While that may sound like political rhetoric, it’s a profound statement. It suggests Roosevelt was confident regarding his ability to lead the country without using fear tactics in order to do so.
Too many messages in American society stoke our fears into inaction or overreaction, rather than channeling them into a more balanced mindset, with an empowering attitude of,
“Yes, we can.”
Leaders need to establish a feeling of safety and security in order to promote progress. And progress equals happiness. But who wants to try new things and take risks, if they’re living in a constant state of fear? Fear of loss, fear of change, fear of the unknown. It’s impossible! And in survival mode, none of us are very good to each other because fear prompts a kind of egocentric desperation – which, not surprisingly, leads to depression. It’s interesting to consider the fact that anxiety is so prolific these days and just about everything on the news is scary. A teacher friend said once, “Every time I watch the news, I feel like I need to stock up on canned goods.” Too many messages in American society stoke our fears into inaction or overreaction, rather than channeling them into a more balanced mindset, with an empowering attitude of, “Yes, we can.”
Studies have shown that when someone is in a heightened state of anxiety, he or she is unable to consider the thoughts or feelings of others. In short, anxious people are often selfish jerks because all they are able to consider in a moment of fear are their own needs. When the brain is living in its amygdala – the “fight or flight” center – as opposed to its frontal cortex – the rational response center – how are we expected to make reasonable decisions? Leaders and other influential figures, who manipulate these fears to push certain agendas, are dangerously immature and unaware, and they, in turn, inspire the same in the rest of us. Fear is a strong motivator, but it’s highly unstable because fear too easily turns into anger and blame…and war.
In our personal lives and in our society, there is no greater motivator than fear. However, ensuring security and inciting hope – often through love, acceptance, and faith – helps to alleviate those fears. Leaders have a tremendous responsibility; those who instill hope and personal empowerment are the ones to ultimately lead us to achieve true greatness – just like a parent with his or her child. As we step into the future, we all need to be mindful of those who seek to exploit our fears and those who seek to neutralize them. There’s no need to be afraid of the unknown or what can’t be fully understood. It’s how we all respond to these things – and to each other – that spells success or failure.