published Friday, October 19th, 2012

David Cook: The only thing we have to fear is ...

Clowns. Lots of clowns.

Rats. Snakes. Spiders. Mice. Roaches.

Heights. Public speaking.

Right-wing extremists. Left-wing extremists. Four more years of Obama. R2D2 — Romney-Ryan, Dumb and Dumber.

Genetically modified food. And mayonnaise. (Must be hell, man ... get it?)

'Tis the season of fear, as Halloween — easily one of the best nights of the year — approaches. So earlier this week, I posted a question — what are you afraid of? — on Facebook.

Tons of loyal readers of this column responded. I got more answers than Alex Trebek.

Like tornadoes. Getting lost. Throwing up. Needles. The Mayan calendar. Sharks (but not "Shark Week").

Why are we afraid of the things that scare us? Is this learned behavior? How much of fear is a cultural construct, something we're taught?

Seems like our fears can be divided into two main camps: An illogical fear that's relative from one person to another — she's afraid of heights, he's afraid of mice — and the collection of universal fears we all share on one level or another.

"Not making a lasting impact that somehow enriches the world," said one reader.

"Not being noticed. Not mattering to people," said another. (Actually, this answer comes from a classroom of middle schoolers).

There is also a universe of fear surrounding poverty. Will I find a job? Have enough money for groceries? And the light bill? And medicine?

"What's going to happen to the world [environmentally, economically, socially, politically] when we have wasted all of our resources and didn't take the time to seek more sustainable options," one reader said. "Less serious fear: clowns."

Fear may be the biggest thing that unites us all. So much political talk focuses on what divides us. What if we realized each of us — on the left, right or middle — may be afraid of the same stuff?

It's not the boogeyman.

"Failure," several readers admitted.

"Dying alone," said another.

"My mother died from breast cancer when I was 18 and my dad from lymphoma when I was 24. I am scared I will not live long enough to see my [children] grow up, have successful careers, marriages, and maybe someday grandchildren," said one reader.

(Note to this reader: I hope you live to be 110, surrounded by gobs of great-grandchildren.)

Fear can depend on geography. Someone living under Veterans Bridge has a different set of fears than I do.

African fears are different than American fears. My kids are not terrified of riding the bus. Kids in Pakistan might be.

"What is really fearful is that we sit and watch it on the evening news every night," said one reader. "And then go about our evenings as if we heard nothing."

At the heart of fear, really, is the realization that we're not in control of much of anything. In the face of so much, we are powerless.

"Ever notice that the first thing angels always say is, 'Fear not'?" wrote one reader.

One of my favorite answers comes from a woman all the way out on the West Coast. She's young in years, but an old soul. What does she fear?

"Any kind of hatred that disconnects us from seeing people as people. Superior race and class ideologies have created enough social conflict and enough pain. As a result we fight each other," she wrote.

"I am utterly terrified about the loss of the brother [and] sisterhood that makes humanity beautiful and worth respecting."

Yeah. Me, too. And snakes.

about David Cook...

David Cook is the award-winning city columnist for the Times Free Press, working in the same building where he began his post-college career as a sportswriter for the Chattanooga Free Press. Cook, who graduated from Red Bank High, holds a master's degree in Peace and Justice Studies from Prescott College and an English degree from the University of Tennessee at Knoxville. For 12 years, he was a teacher at the middle, high school and university ...

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