How do you talk boldly without fear

anxiety

Man is doomed to fear. Fearless people only exist in fairy tales. And something is wrong with them. Try about an attitude to life.

Ohave no fear no courage. Everyone knows that. We know it so well that we hesitate to name courage, which is to be had without overcoming fear. We prefer to use other words, call carelessness or arrogance where there is no struggle that must precede real courage: the struggle with one's own fear.

Man is doomed to fear. Fearless people only exist in fairy tales. And something is wrong with them. The boy “who went out to learn fear” has strength, but he is never called brave. The Icelandic version of this Grimm fairy tale is even clearer. The "fellow who is not afraid of anything" is said to have his parents worried about him; therefore they put him in the care of the pastor "because they thought he was particularly suitable to make something of him and to instill fear in him".

Becoming something and having fear therefore belong together. No further explanation. The fairy tale presupposes it. Also that fear can be learned. And that it is something that has to be learned so that ... Yes, for what? What is it good for, this much dreaded fear?

When you speak, it gets light. ”The child is lying in the dark room and is supposed to fall asleep. Through the half-open door it calls anxiously for the mother in the next room. She doesn't have to come at all, the child just wants to hear her voice, then it is calm: When you speak, it gets light. Freud defines the uncanny as the repressed, secret and homely feeling. That pushes back to the light. That which has become bright again is no longer uncanny. (A vote for enlightenment?) "When you speak, it gets light," says the child out of the darkness.

“Sing a song to unfrighten me,” says another into the silence. The word. The sound. The human voice, whatever language it speaks. The meaning of the words is not all that matters. What matters is that someone perceives the words and answers: Every child who is afraid has a right to them. And if you are no longer a child, you often only have a dialogue with yourself. Don't the psychotherapists recommend their panic patients to talk to themselves as help when they feel an attack is imminent? However, if you never experienced as a child how your fear dissolves in the voice of the other, you will find it difficult as an adult to have fear-relieving conversations with others and with yourself.

Anyone who is afraid needs someone who is not afraid. It's that simple. So simple, because, thank God, we don't always have the same fears at the same time (often enough, and that makes us a flock of sheep in a thunderstorm, grateful victims of all who play their game with us for their purposes) . So easy - and yet so difficult, because some requirements have to be met for the help to work. Above all, those who are afraid must be ready to talk about their fear. To stand by his fear. In order to be able to find protection, he must be ready - for a moment everything is possible, including failure - to endure a moment of defenselessness. That is the advance he has to pay. He has to trust the other. And that means: he needs something that he has least of all in his state of fear, he needs courage. - Whoever manages that is “secure in the unseen”, as Picasso once said. Picasso describes this "being open to every new knowledge, to every new experience outside and inside" as "the essence of modern man who - in all fear of letting go - nevertheless experiences the grace of being held in the revelation of new possibilities".

Fear has a social component. It is people who scare one another and people who make one another fear. But fear not only leads into the community, it also separates it from it. Fear is social and fear is lonely. In between, it can take on any color. And she can switch from one to the other in a flash. But it always remains related to the other. He can help me, he can scare me. Or he can be afraid of me. Or I can take his fear away. There is no relationship without fear, and there is no fear without relationship (in the broadest sense, because lack of relationship is also fearful).

Fear reactions have a necessary protective function for humans as well as for animals. With these situation-related fears we speak of fear and differentiate them from the socially learned fears, which are a specifically human experience tied to the faculty of thought and imagination. We share elementary fears, fear, with the animal. We are subject to the same dangers, are vulnerable and in need of protection as any other living being. This creatural realm is opposed to the much larger field of activity of fear. It is significant that we speak of fears, whereas fear remains singular.

There is no man without fear and there is nothing that cannot be frightening. Any glance at the occurrence of fear reactions in human life, however cursory, points directly to the fact that fear is inextricably linked to life. The parents' concern in the fairy tale for their fearless son is therefore immediately understandable. It's scary, we find it a lack of humanity when fear doesn't appear in a life.

The fairytale phenomenon of fearlessness does not frighten us too much anyway - at a time when anxiety disorders are the most common mental illness of all. Every fourth person will have an anxiety disorder at some point in their life, we hear. The numbers are increasing. What does that tell us? Is our society on the way to phobic sideline or panic unconsciousness? This horn is blown vigorously. Doubts are in order.

Isn't the fearfulness of the afflicted earthly human being the same since time immemorial? And isn't that what has changed dramatically, rather the rapid dwindling of well-known, familiar "aids" against it? Don't existential fears spread because we are more helpless than previous generations? There is much to be said for it.

And everywhere the loss of supportive structures is blamed. First and foremost, the loss of importance of the church and the family.

The church? It seems as if the church today has largely served its purpose as the great fear maker. And can we see anything other than welcome progress? The trick of first generating fears and then being able to promise the release from these fears no longer works. Yes, one wonders why it worked for so long. To burden a being that knows about its finitude to fears that go beyond this finitude seems to us to be extremely superfluous today.

And the family? Now it was not only the Church that succeeded with fear in keeping the flock of her believers in check according to her rules. This is how it worked (and often still does) in the family; in upbringing, which, not so long ago, could be equated with threats, punishment, and fear. That may have improved, but it has not disappeared.

As a rule, children today are no longer afraid of their parents. At least a lot less than two generations ago. Today the fear seems to be on the parents' side. And not just the fear for their children, but of their children.

Should that have been our only progress - exchanging our fears for one another? How was that in a fairy tale? It is said that these parents were afraid for their son because he was not afraid. So the pastor should make him fearful. We just have to shift the perspective a little to turn the old Icelandic fairy tale into a modern horror tale. Parents are afraid of a fearless son. How are they supposed to master him if he doesn't fear them (we would say they have no respect for them) So they put him in a tried and tested fear school. Church, school. But they - either they have already lost their power or the fellow is a hopeless case - fail and send him away. Then he goes through the various horror stations of an untreatable person.

But we don't have to To pervert the old stories like that. Our profit-fixated thinking has long since created its own perversions. TV advertising delivers the modern fairy tales free to your door every day. Fear plays a prominent role in this - no matter what it is. About the fear of bad breath, calcified washing machines, loneliness and illness in old age. And it works so well because a properly stoked fear arouses many needs, the - promised - satisfaction of which can be earned well. The tried and tested method also applies here: old fears are reinforced, new ones generated, and redemption is promised by both. The advertising industry will stop at nothing to achieve its goals. Insurance companies excel here.

They advertise their pension provision offers with spots like: "Don't count on the generosity of your children - we are happy to share with you." The aggressiveness of the presentations has increased significantly over the years. Recently, for example, a little girl has been playing nasty tricks on her mother. The worst is to knot her shoelaces unnoticed. With the painful consequences to be expected ...

Just advertising, and its effectiveness is difficult to beat: no wonder given the enormous potential for fear that is being worked with here. And that has grown enormously in the current mood of economic catastrophe. The increasing number of reports about winners of the crisis show that it does not go unused.

But let's not make it too easy for ourselves: we are all infected with the virus that forces us to constantly run in circles like a circus horse. We think we are moving forward and do not realize that we are seeking healing from it exactly where our fear originates. New things are only dared where they promise material gain (and that is ultimately nothing new), predictability remains the top priority. Even if we are taught better every day, we cling to it as if it were a last stop. Wasn't Picasso wrong in the end when he ascribed modern people “openness to every new experience”?

But there are gaps in the system. And that is where fear is at home, real, existential, not pretended. That is a fear that comes with hope, real hope, not a hollow, deceptive, whispered one. Because of course we want more, we want security, security, protection, beyond our mere existence.

Among the Grimm fairy tales there is one that is actually not a fairy tale. Rather an example, a moral lesson. Also a generation story, a very short one: “The old grandfather and the grandson” is their title. Because the matter is so clear, it doesn't take a lot of words. The parents in this story behave carelessly towards their decrepit grandfather, who spills food and breaks dishes with his trembling hands. So he is banished behind the stove. The small child who is watching the parents holds up the mirror to them and thus brings them to their understanding. He makes a wooden bowl that father and mother should eat from when they are old. The parents looked at each other, it is said, and "finally began to cry, immediately brought grandfather to the table and from now on let him eat with them, saying nothing even if he spilled a little".

That's all. A simple story with a simple message. That is understood. Just as easy as the insurance commercial. Only there the relationship between the generations is reduced to the financial question: “Don't count on the generosity of your children - we like to share with you!” They talk about counting, and generosity and sharing take place at the checkout (and that too It may still be a lie). Here and there, in fairy tales and in advertising, a story is told to us in pictures. Conveys a message. Behaviors are recommended. And both start from one unquestionable fact: people are dependent on one another. That gives hope for security. That scares me. And often both at the same time.

Fairy tales do not close their eyes to human weaknesses. On the contrary. How to deal with them, how they sometimes even miraculously transform themselves into strength, is their topic. - Advertising makes use of the weaknesses and tracks down the need behind them (or invents it). Because something is supposed to be sold here. There is nothing for free. There is nothing to be said against this either - the fairy tale also knows that everything has its price, only here people pay in a different currency.

A problem, and a socially extremely dangerous one, arises where there is targeted intervention, with hidden cards and with destructive intent, in an area that is one of the most valuable things that connects people with one another: trust, responsibility, care. Enlightened and critical of how we feel, we have retained most of the longings and fears that provided different answers in earlier times. They are no longer available to us. The empty spaces remain painfully noticeable - and they arouse fear.

Much limiting, Modern man is liberated from stressful things. But greater freedom also means more and different fears. We know from Kierkegaard that we experience fear as a "vertigo of freedom". However, dizziness and fear also generate turning in circles. Wouldn't it be better to lean far out of the carousel and dare the dizzying sight into the unknown?

Fear always leads us somewhere. Either deeper into your own abyss - then it becomes a disease. Or far beyond the limits of your own consciousness. In between, between the shortness of breath from panic and phobia and the vertigo of freedom, life takes place. ■

("Die Presse", print edition, July 4th, 2009)