A Warning from Seneca to Those Who Employ the Fear Tactic

Sowing fear has unavoidable repercussions

Fearful girl sitting
Image by Hans Kretzmann from Pixabay

“To be feared is to fear: no one has been able to strike terror into others and at the same time enjoy peace of mind himself.” Seneca the Younger, in Letters from a Stoic

Fear drives what we do in many ways, especially when the fear is justified. Think of authoritarian leaders and their subjects or of an abusive marriage.

The dictator’s cronies and subjects fall in line because they know the dictator will take their property or their life if they don’t. The dictator has done so before, many times. It’s to be expected.

What’s interesting -and reassuring- about Seneca’s reflection is that fear goes both ways: The dictator lives in fear also. So does the mafia boss, the head of the cartel and the cruel boss.

This dynamic is at play even in relationships between two individuals -a parent and child, or a husband and wife, for example.

What would the terrorizer fear?

First, those under him find that the only way to rise to the top is by displacing him, getting rid of him, making him disappear. Think of the kingdoms of old or the drug cartels of today.

Second, the oppressed and terrorized will only take so much. They may plot to do him harm. He never knows when they may hit back in a moment of rage, or when the self-defense instinct will take over.

The terrorizer lacks peace of mind not out of empathy or regret, but out of fear for his own life or position of power. He can’t enjoy peace of mind due to fear of reprisal.

Often, the fear turns into paranoia, which leads to more terror and violence.

Relationships based on fear are destructive. We should support laws and initiatives to help victims of such relationships.

We must also watch out for, and call out, this tendency in those in power.

Sixth 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.

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