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The Fear Factor – Humanity’s CO2

Sheri Herr is a visual artist and by no means considers herself a writer. However, at times, she comes to moments when she “sees” the simplicity of life so clearly that her curiosity with regard to how things got so complicated begins to kick in. This pension for open mindedness often brings forth drawn images – she receives the answer in the form of art. But, in some cases, as with the writing below (that will be posted here in installments) she begins to write. The clarity she was experiencing at the time of this writing was that fear is an illusion. The question she asked was how did it then become such a driving force within humanity? As often she does with these curiosities, she started her exploration in her dictionary. What you will read below soon followed. It is food for thought and an exploration in process..


INSTALLATION #1  –  The Fear Factor – Humanity’s CO2

This writing is offered to examine the global effect of fear. Not unlike current concerns about the damage done by Carbon Dioxide to the Earth’s atmosphere, our lands, our oceans, our vegetation, and our wildlife, fear creates its own invisible shadow over our planet and all that lives upon it. This exploration of fear’s similarities to CO2 is not to bring it to a scientific standard but rather a humanistic understanding.

Let’s begin with both current and archaic definitions of the word fear from the Dictionary:


            Function: verb

            Etymology: Middle English feren, from Old English fǣran, from fǣr

Date: before 12th century

Transitive verb

1 archaic: frighten (to make afraid)

2 archaic: to feel fear in (oneself)

3: to have a reverential awe of <fear God>

4: to be afraid of: expect with alarm <fear the worst>

Date: 12th century

1 a: an unpleasant often strong emotion caused by anticipation or awareness of danger

– b(1): an instance of this emotion

–  (2): a state marked by this emotion

2: anxious concern: solicitude

3: profound reverence and awe especially toward God

4: reason for alarm: danger

Etymology: Middle English fer, from Old English fǣr sudden danger; akin to Old High German fāra ambush and perhaps to Latin periculum attempt, peril, Greek peiran to attempt

     fear (n.)

O.E. fær “danger, peril,” from P.Gmc. *færa (cf. O.S. far “ambush,” O.N. far “harm, distress, deception,” Ger. Gefahr “danger”), from PIE base *per- “to try, risk, come over, go through” (perhaps connected with Gk. peira “trial, attempt, experience,” L. periculum “trial, risk, danger”). Sense of “uneasiness caused by possible danger” developed c.1175. The v. is from O.E. færan “terrify, frighten,” originally transitive (sense preserved in archaic I fear me). Sense of “feel fear” is 1393. O.E. words for “fear” as we now use it were ege, fyrhto; as a verb, ondrædan. Fearsome is attested from 1768.2

synonyms fear, dread, fright, alarm, panic, terror, trepidation mean painful agitation in the presence or anticipation of danger. Fear is the most general term and implies anxiety and usually loss of courage <fear of the unknown>. Dread usually adds the idea of intense reluctance to face or meet a person or situation and suggests aversion as well as anxiety <faced the meeting with dread>. Fright implies the shock of sudden, startling fear <fright at being awakened suddenly>. Alarm suggests a sudden and intense awareness of immediate danger <view the situation with alarm>. Panic implies unreasoning and overmastering fear causing hysterical activity <the news caused widespread panic>. Terror implies the most extreme degree of fear <immobilized with terror>. Trepidation adds to dread the implications of timidity, trembling, and hesitation <raised the subject with trepidation>.

It is interesting to note how the definition of fear changed through the centuries. The etymology denotes that the Old English f r, the ancestor of our word fear, meant “calamity, disaster,” but not the emotion engendered by such an event. This is in line with the meaning of the prehistoric Common Germanic word *f raz, “danger,” which is the source of words with similar senses in other Germanic languages, such as Old Saxon and Old High German f r, “ambush, danger,” and Old Icelandic f r, “treachery, damage.”

The most important cause of the change of meaning in the word fear was probably the existence in Old English and the related verb fǣran, which meant “to terrify, take by surprise.” The sense of “uneasiness caused by possible danger” developed circa 1175. Fear is first recorded in Middle English with the sense “emotion of fear” in a medieval work composed around 1290. Thus, prior to the 12th Century, fear was a situation that was created while by the late 1200’s it began to be identified as a human emotion (a feeling created out of supposed danger).

Clearly when we explore the current definition we find repeatedly that fear is of something surmised or perceived or even something that can be completely unknown. The definition delineates that one is not in the middle of something but rather in dread of it.

So why might it have been desirable all those hundreds of years ago on our planet to “create” such a perceived state of impending disaster? Was it to protect from danger – like some kind of warning – which in the end meant saving humankind? Or was it to elevate or control? Either way, the definition clearly leaves us wondering how to figure out just how dangerous or what the outcome would be from this “might be” thing to fear.

It becomes even more confusing to reach for a further understanding of this word by examining its synonyms. Here the range of states or feelings gradually progress from dread (intense reluctance to face or meet a person or situation) to panic (unreasoning and overmastering fear causing hysterical activity) to terror (most extreme degree of fear).

Reaching to see how human nature interfaces with a word or state or feeling that packs such a wallop – indeed, one that isn’t even that easy to intellectualize – raises many questions. Is it something someone might do to you or is it something you feel and act on? Or maybe it is both simultaneously. And if you do feel the feeling of fear, are you having that feeling because you perceive something of danger, because you are thinking you might be in danger, or perhaps that something happened in the past that “seemed similar” and might feel like that of the past? Is fear a response that somehow guides us to protect ourselves? Is it our innate psychic barometer of others intention to harm us? When we feel it, do we immediately act? Do we even have a choice of whether to act or not? If we don’t act, will we be harmed? With so many unknowns, how does one find confidence let alone clarity for exactly what to “do” with this feeling of fear?

Returning to the definition may hold a clue. Within the synonyms we find a string of words that describe states or emotions that sound like equally, if not worse, experiences to find one’s self in. Each synonym is identified with its root: “fear is the most general term and implies anxiety and usually loss of courage <fear of the unknown>. “ Yes, there we are again – in the implication and therefore an unknown.

This initial exploration of how the word, or action of creating, or feeling (whichever it might be) has come to be “known” is offered here as a simple way of showing that fear has little foundation within our ability to understand it or even to know what to do with it. Perhaps the feeling we experience, or belief that we hold, or the state we are in, isn’t something another creates to scare us, or our innate warning siren, or even a feeling at all. Perhaps it is something else entirely.

It is this writer’s proposal that the most applicable definition of fear, in this time, is found in its more recent form: anxious concern – or worse – solicitude (n. attentive care and protectiveness). However, the “attentive care” has become about paying attention to WHAT we need to fear rather than ourselves. A constant response of fear, or self protection, has become like a fuel that is utilized in the absence of something else. It powers us forward in a way that brings us to “believe” that we will be or are safe (avoiding that which we are in fear of). But are we moving ahead or are we moving away from or around or, in extreme modes, not moving at all? From fear, do we move in a direction that we know is the very best for each of us as individuals or rather a direction that we “think” will have no danger? Or, most baffling of all, how do we maneuver in a “right” direction at all when what it is we are avoiding is an unknown or possibly an unfounded perception?

How often do we set a goal using that “list of pros and cons” to avoid the list of cons? How often do we consider all the possible pitfalls before making a decision rather than evaluate all the wonderment’s? How often do we reach to our hearts and ask, “What is best for me?” Or better yet, ask “What is special in me that will take me on a unique course in this life?” “What feels good?” “What do I see that no one else does because I know something or hold something special within myself?” Most importantly, would the ability to ask these questions of ourselves give us an ability to exist without fear at all?

If there really ARE others who are deliberately (with or without conscience) creating something to fear, can we move forward disregarding them? (Having visions here of euphoric humans walking into walls!) There is no doubt in this writers mind and heart that fear has become the main fuel or staple of our times. We watch the news (or what the heck – the weather!) to find out what to fear that “might” fall from the sky. We listen to others between the lines to see if we are safe. We don’t say things we think because others might not understand, or get mad, or worse, judge us! We don’t express how we feel in most situations because it will make us vulnerable (to what…the unknown?).  We have leaders, much like those who first gave rise to this word fear – that have learned the power of instilling fear to move their agenda’s forward or to control their populations. And, perhaps most sadly, although it is not the purpose of religion to create a church out of fear, the rhetoric or doctrines often instill in the followers that there IS a way to understand the unknown and that to believe in one interpretation makes that follower more safe (either from something on Earth or after their time on Earth). Feeling safe is not a bad thing if the follower has no idea about the unknown and needs it, but what if all that Faith still does not remove the fear of the day to day? Has the follower gained an inner Faith in self’s ability to guide one’s life in a safe way or has he/she gained a Faith in the church’s view of the unknown? And if it is the later, isn’t this course an avoiding of that which is unknown and therefore both creates fear and fosters acting out of it?

As humankind has further and further adopted this method of living – out of protection from the unknown – it is no surprise that we are now dealing with the archaic and most extreme degree of fearTerrorism. Those that would cause harm to other humans skillfully utilize fear of the unknown to manipulate humankind throughout our world. We see examples of leaders who are chosen to keep societies safe raising fears through both rhetoric and secrecy, leaving their populations in an even higher state of the unknown – more fear!

Perhaps all this fear is simply a result of not having clarity of that “right” individual direction. Perhaps we are traveling a path of fear that moves us in a direction around or away from what “might happen” and therefore “might create” some “unknown harm” which will then lead us into some “unknown place” of pain or destruction? Would it be better to know where you are going and therefore be able to know when you get there? What would it take to move humankind forward without the fear factor?

First let’s ask what happens to the courage that the definition tells us is lost in the presence of fear? If the fear factor is so prevalent, does that make humankind a large group of cowards? Are we or did we became 2,000 years ago a population that cannot find the courage to follow a path without influence of fear. Or could it be that we have traveled this path for so long that we just don’t see or know another way. Perhaps we have done this “check out what is going to be bad first” in order to feel safe for so long and in so many ways that it just doesn’t occur to us that there IS another way to move our lives forward. We have come to think if a relationship is bad, it’s bad and we aren’t safe. If the economy is bad, it’s bad and we aren’t safe. If another country doesn’t like us, it’s bad and we aren’t safe. If the person I am speaking with doesn’t understand me, it’s bad and I won’t be safe. What IF…………nothing IS bad? What if an-others understanding of you, for example, was completely in your power and therefore your ability to keep yourself safe would always be assured? Of course this would require the act of courage to be you and reflect yourself to the world honestly at all times!

Would courage move us beyond this never ending path of fear? The root of the word courage is cour the French word for “heart.” The idea that our emotions originate in our hearts goes back at least 2500 years and one of the earliest books to make this connection was something called On The Sacred Disease about epilepsy written by followers of Hippocrates.


INSTALLATION #2 – An exploration to determine if courage, or the lack thereof, contributes to the fear factor.