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Courage in the Age of Fear

By Philip Humbert

Ralph Waldo Emerson observed that, "We become what we think about all day long." Recently, I've been thinking about that...

In the past few weeks, I've read a half-dozen books about the Depression and the Dust Bowl of the 1930's. People were literally starving. Millions of people who had been prosperous farmers, tradespeople and merchants were suddenly homeless, wandering the American West in beat-up cars and living in shanty-towns called Hoovervilles. People were desperate for work, often slaving all day for pennies to feed their family at night.

Then, this week, I re-read the American classic, Walden, by Henry Thoreau. In many ways he was the poorest person in Concord, poorer even than the Irish immigrants living in hovels by the railroad. And yet he considered himself rich. If his little cabin burned to the ground, he could re-build in a few days. He fed himself by hoeing beans and raising corn, and nourished his soul on books and conversation. He considered himself one of the richest and most blessed of people and wondered that most people live "such mean and tortured lives."

"We become what we think about all day long."

I've been noticing how afraid most of us are. I've tried to pay attention to the news and to advertising, to the tone of my conversations and the topics we discuss. Hundreds of times a day, I'm warned about some danger.

Daily, we are warned about contamination in our food, corruption in our politics, and threats to our nation. Just today, I've heard news stories about a half-dozen "shocking" murders or kidnappings around the country and have noted that, while they are great tragedies for the families involved, they happened far away and have little direct impact on my life. And yet, cumulatively, they encourage me to live with slightly more fear than I would otherwise.

In Walden, Thoreau makes the comment that most news is merely gossip. He notes that if we've heard of one flood or railroad disaster or murder, we understand the concept and "need never read of another." That makes some sense to me.

While the internet and cable news channels and the 24-hours news cycle have brought many benefits, I suspect they have also needlessly increased our fear. I've often joked that for all the stories of terror and bombs and hate, it's been a long time since anyone shot up my neighborhood with an Uzi or bombed my local grocery store. To paraphrase Will Rogers, my life has been filled with many awful things, "most of which never happened."

My point in all of this is that I think we might dare more than we do.

I read that many people are afraid to start or expand a business, to hire new people, or to pursue their dreams. But I'm not clear exactly how national statistics make any difference in my personal life! If I have the resources, if I have the skills, if I have the passion, does it really matter what the bankers in New York or London are doing? Does it really matter that Greece is going through turmoil or that Mr Romney and Mr Obama disagree on many things?

Around the margins, perhaps. Perhaps tax or interest rates, or politics can make a small difference in the future, but if I want to hike the Grand Canyon or write a novel, or get married or start a business, or change my diet, how much does anything "out there" really matter? I would suggest, "not much."

I agree with Thoreau. I think we could live bigger and nobler lives if we wished. I think we could read better books, make love more often, sleep in on a lazy Saturday morning, or take the kids to the park more often, and the "rain in Spain" would not matter one little bit.

"We become what we think about all day long."

I challenge you to focus on joy, to dream bigger and better dreams, and to act with greater courage. Live the life you truly want and leave the small thinking, the fear and hesitancy to others. Resolve to do one thing that makes you happy, and do it today! Laugh more. Love more. Have more fun and live with more daring! Make more mischief, be outrageous, and be who you truly are! Be fearless and "just do it!"

This is your life. Refuse to live in fear.

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