“Our fears are always more numerous than our dangers.” Seneca the Younger, in Letters from a Stoic
This is one of the most often quoted sentences in Letters from a Stoic. It’s a simple, easy to recall statement. It also happens to be true.
I’d just replace always with usually, generally, typically — one of those terms meaning “most of the time.” But who am I to correct Seneca?
It’s just that we’re going through a disorienting time when it comes to the relationship between fears and dangers. In some ways, today’s pandemic makes Seneca’s statement ring false.
Let’s remember though: Seneca’s times were far more dangerous than ours — COVID-19 and all. As hard as it may be to think beyond the pandemic crisis, I don’t doubt that our fears generally are “more numerous than our dangers.”
Often, our fears are unfounded, and greater in magnitude than they should be. My mom will never get over my moving in with my boyfriend. She’ll never talk to me again. My sister will never forgive me for losing her favorite earrings. In the end, mom got over it and sister forgave.
Most of the time, our fears are more numerous than our dangers right now. For instance, although people need prolonged treatment to overcome phobias and fears based on trauma, such fears, though real, are not based on present danger.
Frequently, our fears are irrational, not based on actual level of danger. I have an irrational fear of flying, for instance. I don’t give in to this fear because I want to go places.
But I do succumb, partially, to my totally unfounded fear of sharks. I’ll settle for snorkeling in clear waters and decline a long swim in the dark waters of the Long Island Sound.
Many times, our fears are based on prejudice and false stereotypes -not on real danger. I’m referring to, for example, fear of immigrants, and fear based on race or sexual orientation.
This fear need not be overt. I’ve known people, for instance, who won’t send their kids to a certain middle school in my town that has a higher percentage of minority kids. They give all kinds of reasons. Deep down, however, they fear the kids there will be less smart and more violent.
There’s no definitive list of basic emotions, yet all lists I’ve seen include fear as one of them.
Fear is essential. To live our best life, however, we can’t give in to it blindly. We must use fear as a guide, analyze it and confront it.
In this unique moment, my fear isn’t contracting the Coronavirus or dying from it. My only fear is spreading it. Hence I take social distancing seriously.
What specific fear do you have today? How are you handling it?
8th piece for a 30-day writing challenge on a single topic: Quotes from Seneca the Younger’s Letters from a Stoic.
Why this topic? Because I can’t get over how timely and brilliant Seneca’s words are -2,000 years after he wrote them.