“The only thing we have to fear is fear itself.” (Franklin Delano Roosevelt)
At the deepest time of the Great Depression, FDR was elected President of the United States. Today’s quote is from his Inaugural address in March of 1933. With these 10 words as a rallying cry, Roosevelt inspired a nation to rise up and rebuild. The road ahead was difficult and long, but with everyone working together the economy and the spirit of the nation were rebuilt.
I have heard this quote since my childhood. It has always seemed an oddly recursive notion. We only have to fear fear. It wasn’t until I reached adulthood that I began to understand what the President was saying, and what I needed to do differently in my life.
Fear is mostly an emotional, involuntary response to a situation. When I see something scary, there is a reaction that occurs within, there is a very physical aspect. That reaction is completely natural, and mostly unavoidable. It is what I do with that feeling that matters.
In his Inaugural Speech, this quote is actually only part of a longer sentence. The full sentence reads “So, first of all, let me assert my firm belief that the only thing we have to fear is fear itself—nameless, unreasoning, unjustified terror which paralyzes needed efforts to convert retreat into advance.” It is the part after the dash which speaks greatly to me today.
It is a running joke in my office that I lose sleep over certain parts of my job. There are aspects of financial management and controlling the budget that haunt me at night. To me it isn’t a joke, I really do lie in bed in fear, sometimes in a sweat, over these things. Sometimes when I get to work that fear stays with me, and becomes an “unjustified terror which paralyzes needed efforts”. I find myself procrastinating the work on the budget, and instead work on other parts of my job. Because nothing is being solved in the finances, the fear grows. Deadlines begin to loom, options become smaller, and I have to work hard to rally up and fix things. The truth is that once I get past the fear, I usually have the tools handy to address the problem. But, while I am paralyzed by the fear, nothing gets done.
Less than a week ago I made the decision to make changes in my life to become more healthy. I have been thinking about these changes for months, but have delayed starting them. I can use excuses like the Holidays, other stress at home, work stress, and a busy schedule to explain why I didn’t start previously. The truth is that none of those was any better on Saturday morning when I started this journey. What was really holding me back was fear. I was afraid that I would try and fail, or that the effort would be too painful – both physically and emotionally. On my other blog I will address what changed, and why I was able to overcome the fear, but for this post the important thing is that I did finally bust through the fear and stepped across the starting line.
During my time as Confirmation Coordinator, we spent hours discussing the 7 Gifts of the Holy Spirit. One of those is Courage. When discussing the gift of Courage, we also discussed fear. We talked about whether firefighters who ran into burning buildings were afraid. Some would say they weren’t, but we ultimately would reach the conclusion that they most likely were afraid. What propelled their legs forward, while others were in retreat, was Courage. Courage isn’t the absence of fear, it is taking action in spite of my fear.
In 1933, FDR was trying to spur people to action. Today his quote helps me keep the momentum of my action, by boosting my courage in the face of fear.