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2014 Great American Think Off essay - Flourish and Blotts

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April 13th, 2014

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12:08 am - 2014 Great American Think Off essay
Well, for better or worse, it's done.

The question posed this year is deceptively simple: Love or Fear? Which motivates us more?

For reasons I do not know, the deadline to enter was extended to April 15th. My assumption, which may be completely wrong, is that they sought more entries, or the preponderance of one side left them with few entries to chose from supporting the other. In any case, after a bit of deliberation, I decided where I stood and began writing. Originally, I ended up with a rather distasteful diatribe, focused largely upon politics and religion. I wasn't remotely happy with it even though I felt it was accurate. It certainly was unlikely to be a popular choice amongst the judges.

Then a couple of things happened, mainly that my friend Aleta posted an entry on Facebook linking to a TED talk by Brene Brown. In 20 minutes the woman completely rewrote my essay, showing me a way to confront the answer without the need to rant. I am, for the most part, much happier with the result, and I think it's both intellectually honest and possibly finalist material. Time will tell. Now, if you wish, you can see what I wrote.

“Love or fear: which motivates us more?”

The greatest prison people live in is the fear of what other people think.

We know little about the origins of love, at least as we might define it today. Fear, on the other hand, exists in almost all mammals, and mankind is no different. The primitive human sensed fear, choosing fight or flight when faced with personal danger, a trait that continued so long as he was not the top of the food chain. Over time, as he conquered and domesticated other animals and learned to arm himself against those who might attack him, the nature of his fear began to change.

With the development of more involved thinking, man’s natural fears lessened, but the emotion did not disappear, it simply sought new places within the developing brain to express its power, building a base that no longer required external stimulation. It found a perfect home in the nature of our socialization.

Humans are by nature social creatures, and with few exceptions openly seek relationships with others. However, that trait is carefully nurtured, shaped by rules that society has adopted through generations of fear. As Oscar Hammerstein observed “You’ve got to be carefully taught.”

A male child is taught that he must not cry, for an open display of such emotion is considered unmanly. It shows weakness. So boys learn to fear and suppress other emotions. He is also taught that certain toys are for girls, and despite the idea that a boy might find enjoyment playing with a doll he is discouraged or even punished for doing so. Why? Do his parents fear he might be having fun? No, they fear that he might not conform to the gender stereotype. The child’s potential enjoyment is never considered.

Brené Brown studies vulnerability, courage, authenticity, and shame. In a presentation for the TED talks, she discussed her findings, emphasizing that deep human relationships, even between spouses, are hampered or even prevented because we fear becoming vulnerable. Instead we construct a façade. We share only certain truths, and hide behind a fabricated image because we fear being judged “not good enough.”

Love is frequently overcome by fear. We know that sharing love opens us up to pain. It’s almost as if we use the words of Ronald Reagan: “trust, but verify.” At some point each of us, at least every adult, can likely recall a heart-shredding break-up and the physical pain it caused. We probably swore off dating ever again. It was too painful and the risks too great. We forgot whatever joy we’d felt because we feared betrayal and further pain. Once again fear ruled our emotions.

Even within a loving relationship we fear, and our fear often takes over. Let’s face it, when she asks “does this make me look fat?” we fear offering any answer. More importantly, keep in mind that she’s asking because she has fears.

The American Society of Plastic Surgeons (ASPS) recently released its 2012 Plastic Surgery Statistics Report and the findings are truly astounding. According to the latest available data, Americans and people living in America collectively spent a whopping $11 billion that year on face lifts, Botox injections, breast augmentations and various other purely aesthetic - and technically unnecessary - cosmetic procedures.

Why? Fear! Fear that our façade is crumbling, or that we will somehow be judged upon how well we’ve aged or how our genes have betrayed us. Women are raised to believe in an impossible norm of appearance, and fear the wrath of others if they do not measure up. They fear they cannot be acceptable or loved otherwise.

From all of this our children learn that while being social is important, the careful construction and presentation of a façade is even moreso. They learn to fear showing their true self.

In the final analysis, fear not only controls us, but all too easily morphs into anger and thence to its ultimate form: hatred. Safe behind our façade we grow angry when someone challenges our true self or asks us to consider other options. No one likes to seriously question themselves.

In short, although I take no joy in saying so, fear is a far greater motivator than love. Golda Meir, the former Prime Minister of Israel, succinctly spelled this out when she spoke these words…

We will only have peace with the Arabs when they love their children more than they hate us.

We fear more than love, and after centuries we still have no peace.

(1 comment | Leave a comment)


[User Picture]
Date:April 13th, 2014 07:45 am (UTC)
I agree. I try to blend into the background these days which is why the prospect of being on parade at Pip's wedding is daunting. I would not go given the choice but would not let her down. I reckon you summed it up. Well done you. X

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