Selling Fear? I’m Not Buying

Act_UpAlexandra Petri is an excellent writer for the Washington Post. She’s featured on the ComPost blog but also writes a delightful column that appears in the Saturday print edition. Sadly, I’ve been unable to find those print columns online. I really wanted to share her July 27 entry with you, because it was nothing short of brilliant. It talked about the fears that other people will try their hardest to also push onto you.

Since I can’t find a link, here’s an excerpt:


If you want to be absolutely safe in life, listen well. Imbibe my fears. Let them guide you.

Here is a vague smorgasbord of anecdotes, prejudices and bad experiences my uncle once had that will, I think, protect you from death or at least from new experiences that could change your mind about people, which are in some ways worse.

  • Don’t jog at night. Don’t jog during the daytime. Never jog. One hundred percent of joggers who were mugged were jogging in the first place. …
  • Don’t walk through certain areas of downtown Los Angeles, ever. One of your distant relatives once walked through that area, and he was savagely attacked by a saber-tooth tiger and dragged into a tar pit. …
  • Avoid bus stops, parking lots, schools, houses, cars, the pyramids, the suburbs, the city, lakes, oceans, rivers, Kansas, your own back yard, hole-in-the-wall cafes, fancy restaurants, the environs of the Eiffel Tower, places where they serve food that is different from the food your mother cooked, barbecues, street festivals, Grandma’s house. Terrible things have happened in all those places. …

So far, no one who said that a life lived in fear is not worth living has ever made it out.

Try, if possible, not to be born. If you are born, you will have to interact with people who are different from you, and you will learn, and you will change your mind, and you will discover all kinds of wonder and unlooked-for happiness, and, one day, you will die.

This must be avoided at all costs.


While Petri’s irreverent tone is joyful to read in and of itself, it’s also quite a serious look at the fears that people try to place onto others. I think this often happens between parents and children, but to some degree in any other type of relationship as well. People are afraid of things because of their own wounds, their own insecurities, their own bad experiences. Now they want YOU to be afraid too.

But doesn’t it all sound so ridiculous? And imagine it applied to larger things: Why you should avoid people of a certain cultural or ethnic background. Why you should never travel to foreign lands. Why you shouldn’t like something or want something or pursue your dreams – because they fall outside of the norm, because it’s different or strange, because people like us just don’t do that.

I’m writing about this because much of my emotional journey has been examining my relationship with fear. It’s the thing that’s kept me back from many things. Kept me from standing up for myself. Kept me from going after things I wanted. Kept me from living a truly fulfilled life at times.

I still confront fears at times and try to take inventory of them as a means of keeping them in check. I know they’re poking at me if I’m afraid of honestly and respectfully speaking my truth. If I’m afraid to take a risk, even if it would mean an opportunity to grow. If I’m more concerned with your feelings than with my own. Vulnerability and abandonment are two fears that have kicked at me for years. What if I say or do something that makes you not like me anymore? I’ve had to learn to put that thought in its place … to realize that the people who would walk away from the honest version of me are the ones who are best let go.

As I grow, I find my fears slipping away, holding less influence. As I find my courage, I find more freedom, more joy, more serenity. I find truth. I find the essence of who I really am. I hope that all of us, in some way, can find the means to be brave, to leave fear behind and instead be guided by faith. To let go … and truly live.


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Andrew Hines

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