Letter: Letting go of fear can bring empathy, clarity

From: Tom Lane


There is lots of anger going on in our world. From the left and right, men and women, white/black/brown and everyone in between. When I see anger, I always remember that anger is the outward expression of fear. Fear breeds anger. Fear boils up in people, and anger is the outlet. And we seem to have a leader who embraces stoking the fires of fear.

What I learned in working with organizations was that fear must be driven out for any organization/nation to achieve excellence. What I also found was that many senior executives only knew how to lead from that fear model. They thought it kept people on their toes, or it kept people in line, or it simply got people to work harder. All of that was false, but it was a way to maintain an illusion of control.

Fear gets people to shut down and circle the wagons to find who is on our side and who is not. Fear creates separation, just when the performance of the organization needs cooperation. Fear pits people against one another.

Fear drives out facts. When people are working from fear, they tend to shade information in ways that protect them or prove them to be right. Being wrong in a fearful place puts you at risk. Hiding negative information becomes the mode of operation.

Fear prevents trying new things and new ideas. No one wants to fail in a fear-based system that makes you too vulnerable. Traditional ways are held onto more tightly, giving some a sense of safety, while putting the system in jeopardy.

Fear fosters blame, instead of understanding. When we are afraid, we want to find a source for that fear, and blaming others is the easy way out. We like to pretend we had no part in this issue and want to put blame on “those others” who are not in our group.

Fear is de-energizing. That is why I think people turn their fear into anger, to find energy to fight against all that evil out there. Otherwise, depression sets in. But that is a no-win game, since all the different factions are using their fear to generate anger, and anger begets more anger.

It is why President Franklin Roosevelt said at the beginning of the Depression, that “all we have to fear, is fear itself.” Fear is the great enemy of community and unity and excellence. Facing our fear, we remember that our imagined fearful future is simply that, imagined. Dropping our fear gives us clarity and empathy.

Living in fear in any aspect of your life is to diminish that living. If you are in a state of anger, look and find the fear. Let go of the fear and show up with a new clarity. Then act with that clarity and without anger.