I’m going to be spending a week at this beautiful spot next week – away from the incessant, assaultive demands of electronics and media. I know I’ll laugh at myself the first time my friend, David, and I have a discussion about something and I’ll wonder, “Who was it that said that?” and I’ll reach for my phone to Google the answer and then realize that this is exactly why I was there in the first place – not to be near a cell phone tower. I know what books I’ll bring with me and I’m planning the menus for the five nights. Maybe the best thing about camping is how everything tastes great – franks and beans…you name it. One thing that I will welcome next week is a respite from the aura of fear that has descended like a thick, gray blanket on our public consciousness.
Public fear is much like the private fear I see in my office on a daily basis. I am convinced that the driving force that unsettles so many marriages and intimate relationships is quite simply – fear. It may be the fear of something concrete and nameable. However, usually what I observe is more something that lies deeper within us. When that attachment bond – upon which our inner security seems to depend – is shaken – is cast into serious doubt – we shift into a desperate, often ragged, attempt to regain that safety. This comes in many forms. I have seen these efforts expressed as rage, as utter abandonment hijacks one person’s well-being. I have seen it, as well, in the silent withdrawal of the partner who, like Boticelli’s St. Sebastian, feels riddled with the arrows of criticism and unhappiness aimed at them by their partner. One thing is certain. The intensity of the fear is directly proportional to the level of anger, judgment or withdrawal. When we are fearful, we react. Our only goal at that moment is safety. Abraham Maslow, in his famous Hierarchy of Needs, identified “safety” as a primary need, after basic physiological sustenance. If we are starving, the only thing we need – that which dominates and overwhelms our consciousness – is food. That need being satisfied, we are able to summon the psychological resources to seek out higher needs, which ends with living the highest expression of ourself in this life. However, second in Maslow’s pyramid is “safety” and, just as with food and shelter, if this need is threatened, we will mobilize all we have available to us to satisfy that need. Only when the anxiety – the fear – is abated, can we turn to higher, better, ends. On the personal level, this includes listening and empathizing with the worries and fears of our partner. On a broader level, it is building a more inclusive and tolerant society.
Years ago I heard a colleague share what seemed at the time to be an overly simplistic personal equation. That was my mistake. He said, “We are motivated either by love or fear. Fear distances us from love, but love, when embraced, will vanquish fear.” This love isn’t simply sexual love or being “in love.” It is an opening of our heart to another person. It is the certainty that whatever another person may need, fundamentally, we have inside of us to provide. We have the power – the capacity – to ease another’s pain – and their fear. When I see that realization gleam in the eye of an individual in relationship distress, that distress always lessens. I witness love conquering fear. I’m going to mull on that further in the mountains next week, away from the noxious fog of fear that is being pumped into our society during this terribly overheated election year.