What are you afraid of?

Something happening to your kids? Losing your health? Not finding a job? What are you afraid of?

Fear, of course, is something with which we’re all quite familiar. Too familiar.

Why? In particular, why do we spend so much time being afraid when we live in a society far safer now than even twenty-five years ago, let alone a century ago? Theories vary, but one of the more prominent is that, while we live in a safer society than ever before, we hear more about dangerous events and threatening situations than ever before via the multitude of media channels available to us. So we live safer lives but are bombarded by messages about danger.

And the reason the messages are so effective is because we are wired to be afraid. There was an evolutionary advantage, that is, to detect threat, real or imaginary. Think about it: there is little lost when you get afraid of a perceived threat that turns out to be harmless, while the consequences of missing an actual threat are disastrous. So while jumping out of your skin because you thought that stick on the ground was a poisonous snake may be embarrassing, missing the snake altogether, or assuming it poses no threat, can be deadly.

So fear clearly played an important role in the evolution of our species. But is it of value today? And even if it is – that is, there are still things worth being afraid of – how do we mitigate its devastating affects. How, that is, do we avoid being driven by fear… in terms of opportunities we don’t take, money we spend on security devices, the amount of our national budget that goes to defense, and beyond? I think this is a particularly important question for Christians, as one of the core messages throughout Scripture is, “Do not be afraid.”

In light of all this, I found the following 12-minute TED Talk by author Karen Thompson Walker fascinating. She begins with the story of sailors adrift at sea, and how their fears – whether real or imagined – significantly influenced their ability to make good decisions. The insights and counsel she draws and shares from her work are well worth watching.

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