New Year’s 2018 and the Fear of the Future
Leonard Cohen’s lyrics in his song The Future reflect the fear of the future many now experience: “I’ve seen the future / Brother, it is murder.”
Depth case studiess are very aware that many people carry intense fear of the future in our time. While there has always been a dimension of such fear, at this particular moment in our society, it is particularly widespread and intense.
In our era, there is great fear of many large-scale calamities: job loss; economic downturn; climate change and environmental disaster; uncertainty about health and uncertainty about children’s futures would be some of the most significant fears and future-oriented anxieties. It’s really not surprising to see this fear and anxiety intensify as we come nearer to the holiday that celebrates the advent of the future: New Year’s.
Thank Goodness for Fear and Anxiety!
One of the great things distinguishing humans from other species is our ability to anticipate the future and to plan by creating options and selecting from them. This as our threat management system. It greatly assists our individual survival, and that of the species. However, as U. of Queensland Prof. T. Suddendorf illustrates, this threat management system has a downside: we can get stuck imagining mental scenarios that torment us with anxiety and fear.
While anxiety and the fear of the future can empower us to protect ourselves and take precautions, this same mechanism can lead us to be paralyzed by fear of what might happen. So, New Year’s celebration can easily be coloured by the dark clouds of imagined possibilities.
Fear of the future, in our age, is fed by media and others who follow the rule of thumb that, “if it bleeds, it leads“. Unfortunately, media and advertisers have learned that, if they can increase our fear and anxiety, they increase our attentiveness to their messages. This tends to lead to a kind of “learned helplessness”, a numbness and inability to respond to situations in life. If it’s not fear of terrorism that’s the flavour of the day, then it’s economic fear, fear of war or disease, or — you name it.
Fear and Franklin
1932 was a grim year. President Hoover was completely immobilized by the steadily worsening Great Depression. The United States felt spiritually as well as financially bankrupt — a nation immobilized by fear. In March 1933, President Franklin Roosevelt in his first Inaugural Address uttered a now famous phrase:
“The only thing we have to fear is fear itself—nameless, unreasoning, unjustified terror which paralyzes needed efforts to convert retreat into advance.”
This phrase is so famous it can feel like a shopworn cliche. But let’s understand the profundity of Roosevelt’s insight. He saw a nation full of resources and individual people who were fundamentally strong. He also saw the possibility of fear immobilizing that people, and taking away their power to undertake even the first step towards the life they wanted for themselves. He literally saw that the only thing stopping them from moving forward with courage and imagination — was fear. This is a fundamental insight into his time, but it also captures a fundamental truth about the human condition. For our own time and situation, famous Jungian analyst James Hollis unpacks this same truth:
So there you have it. Fear is the enemy. Life is not your enemy; the Other is not your enemy; fear is the enemy…
Ask yourself of every dilemma, every choice, every relationship, every commitment, or every failure to commit, “Does this choice diminish me, or enlarge me?” Do not ask this question if you are afraid to find the answer [italics mine]. You might be afraid of what your own soul will require of you, but at least you will then know your marching orders…
If you are still afraid, imagine your tombstone: “Here lies one who was not here, one who did not show up!” That is something to really fear; compared to this, our daily fears are trivial [italics mine].
Courage and the Future
In an important sense, we humans are always locked in struggle with our fear, as the greatest barrier between us and our individual destinies. As Roosevelt so eloquently stated, like the humans in every place and time, we must fear the fear that could keep us from full and authentic life.
A key goal of /a-midlife-transition is empowering the individual to move through fear, to live life as an authentic expression of who she or he most fundamentally is.
I wish you the happiest of Holiday seasons and the blessings of an authentic and courageous New Year!
Brian Collinson, Registered Psychotherapist & Jungian Psychoanalyst