“Fürchte dich nicht” (Don’t be afraid)! These words first became familiar to me at a Jewish wedding at the very beginning of the Holocaust in Nazi Germany. The young bride and groom were married shortly before they escaped by night and fog over the border to Sweden.
There are innumerable reasons for fear, many of them destructive and immobilizing. Fear has its place to warn us of some danger, an impending disaster which can be very useful to preserve us from injury or harm. Examples of this can be the animal trainer who dared danger and tangled with a lion or tiger and was severely injured as the result of his fearlessness. He actually dared fate and suffered its consequences. Another example is the famous Evel Knievel, who appeared to be afraid of nothing, paying many consequences for his “daredevil” exposes.
Fear can create immobility where action is essential. We have countless examples of this. Agoraphobia is an extremely limiting illness which creates situations where the afflicted individual is unable to leave his home. He or she cannot even take care of his daily needs, cannot purchase her groceries, cannot socialize, and cannot go to work, thus losing everything that is essential to normal human existence. It makes a prisoner out of the sufferer and reduces his world to the proverbial four walls. Fear keeps people isolated from one another because the afflicted one may fear being not good enough, of being rejected, thus causing him to refrain from interacting, robbing him of happiness. There is the woman who refused any treatment for cancer which would have prolonged or saved her life because she was so afraid of either chemotherapy or radiation. There is the individual who always agrees with the crowd because she is afraid to express her true opinion, thus becoming a shadow figure who loses her own identity. There are the teenagers who dress alike, and must fit into all and every whim of their peers in order to feel accepted. There is the fear of being true to oneself, even feeling forced to agree with the majority in expressing their differences re choosing a politician. During the last American election, voters were afraid to admit that they were Republicans because of the pressure of the majority! People even voted for Hitler for fear of retaliation.
Fear made people walk into the gas ovens. Fear kept the European Jews in the countries of their birth because of the fear of the unknown. They refused to leave and insisted they would await the last train because of the fear of the unknown, of starting anew, of being penniless, of losing their identity. These fearful ones did leave with the last train - the train to the concentration camps and the train to the gas ovens.
Heroes are fearless; they succeed because of their courage and their lack of unwarranted fears. To quote William Shakespeare: “Cowards die many times before their death, the valiant never taste of death but once”. Let us look at our Israeli brethren who are fighting for their rights, do not crumble under the rockets and stones of the Arabs; do not agree with our naysayers, and believe in their convictions regardless of the centuries of unprovoked and undeserved abuse and hatred and prejudice that the Jews all over the world have suffered. Let us follow their example. AL TIRO!
Dr. Ursula A. Falk is a psychotherapist in private practice and the co-author, with Dr. Gerhard Falk, of Deviant Nurses & Improper Patient Care (2006).