Today we ask that you not allow your life to be ruled by other people’s fears.
Do not be ruled by other people’s fears.
What does this mean?
Much of the fear people experience in life really isn’t even their own fear.
They are fears taken in from other people, the way you might catch a cold, or the flu.
You read things on the internet, you watch TV, you talk to people. Through this, you are exposed to a lot of stories about things you should be afraid of.
The vast majority of these fearful stories are things you will never directly experience in your lifetime.
Most of you will never directly experience a terrorist attack, the kidnapping of a child, or losing all your possessions in a natural disaster. You will not be brutally murdered by a maniac, or have a loved one killed in such a way.
And yet all day long people sit around imagining all these horrible things they hear about from other people. And as they imagine these things, they feel real fear and tension in their bodies. This tension can make them quite sick and anxious — even though nothing bad is actually happening to them! They are sitting at home or in an office, worried sick because of some story about something terrible happening to someone else, something that they will never directly experience.
It is a terrible energy drain. There are a million better things to do than to obsess over fearful stories about other people.
Yet consider how much time you might spend doing precisely this. How much time do you spend imagining horrible scenarios, prompted by stories you hear from others.
Usually the argument for this activity is that sitting around anticipating dreadful things that might happen to you allows you to protect yourself and your loved ones from harm.
While it is wise, for example, to make some preparation for earthquakes if you live in an area prone to earthquakes, or make preparations for tornadoes if you live in an area prone to tornadoes, in truth this should not take very much of your time.
But most of the fearful stories people take in drive people into a state of feeling helpless and powerless. There is no useful action to take, no preparation you can make. Your mind just races with groundless anxiety and misery. You aren’t protecting yourself or anyone else. If anything, you’re making everything worse for yourself and your loved ones, with all of your worries.
So be discerning. Be discerning about the sources of the fearful stories you take in. Where are these stories coming from? And is it truly useful for you to spend time taking in these stories?
You may know that you cannot believe everything you read, you cannot believe everything other people tell you. And yet when the mind sees something in official-looking print, or when an authoritative voice says something — there is a tendency to believe.
So question. Discern.
All these things other people say you should be afraid of — how much of it really has to do with you, personally?
There is enough fear in life without taking on everyone else’s fear.
How much of your fear really belongs to your parents, your partner, or the voices on the internet?
If you are afraid of spiders, or flying in airplanes, fine. That is your personal fear. That is something you can work on.
But what if you’ve always been basically unafraid around spiders, and then so-and-so tells you some nightmarish story about some person suffering from a horrible spider bite. Suddenly you start thinking, “I should be more afraid of spiders than I am.”
This is what it means to take on other people’s fears. Deep down, you are really not all that afraid of spiders. You are probably intelligent enough not to fool around with a poisonous spider. So this fearful story isn’t helping you. It’s just adding unnecessary, useless fear to your life.
A lot of fear is like this.
When you are obsessing over some fearful thing, check in with yourself. Ask yourself if this fear is really your fear, or someone else’s fear. Ask yourself how likely it is that this fearful thing could happen to you.
If you really do an inventory, you may find that the majority of the things you fear are “other people’s fears,” that you have taken in. Let them go. They’re not protecting you from anything.