Fear is defined as an unpleasant emotion caused by the belief that someone or something is dangerous, likely to cause pain or a threat.
By this definition, we all have fear. But the root of this fear isn’t the fear itself, but what follows the fear or what we believe the fear to be, both of which can be curbed by knowledge.
For example, when giving a speech in public most people feel afraid, but they aren’t afraid of the action of speaking, they’re afraid of the judgments that their peers will have if they fail. We care too much about what other people think, and this causes us to be afraid of something we have absolutely no control over; the thoughts and opinions of others.
Epictetus was a Stoic philosopher that lived during the Hellenistic period.
Epictetus believed that we can curb our fears by knowing what is, and isn’t under our control. He believed that, “some things are in our control and others not. Things in our control are opinion, pursuit, desire, aversion, and, in a word, whatever are our own actions. Things not in our control are body, property, reputation, command and, in one word, whatever are not our own actions.”
When we know what is in our control, we have no need to fear or be afraid of the things we cannot control.
It doesn’t make any logical sense, why fear things you can’t control or have no influence over?
Why be afraid of the weather?
You can’t control the weather, only your response to it.
Why be afraid of what others think?
You can’t control their thoughts, you can’t control what goes in and out of another’s head, you can only be the image of yourself you’d like them to see and hope that that’s the image they see of you.
Why be afraid of the future?
You can only control your own actions which take place in the present.
Epicurus, another philosopher, believed that knowledge of the natural sciences would rid our fear of unexpected phenomena.
For example, having knowledge of why rain happens will cause us to realize it’s all a part of the nature of things, and not some scary heavenly phenomena in which the gods intend to smite and punish us.
He faithfully believed that “one cannot rid himself of his primal fears if he does not understand the nature of the universe, but instead suspects the truth of some mythical story. So without the study of nature, there can be no enjoyment of pure pleasure.”
It’s impossible to enjoy life when living in constant fear of things that need not be feared. I find this to be self-evident, but if you truly need an example, think about a time when you were afraid of something you need not be afraid of, and realize how you either grew out of the fear, or beat yourself up over being so fearful. To avoid this feeling of regret and sorrow, when I fear something or feel my heart beginning to speed up, I stop and ask myself:
“What am I afraid of? Why am I feeling this anxiety?” and every time I ask myself those questions, I realize that I’m afraid of something I can’t control or something I don’t understand.
Knowledge of what you can’t control will rid your fears of the things you can’t influence, and knowledge of the sciences will rid yourself of the fear of myth, superstition and what you don’t understand.
Thus allowing you to live fully in the moment and enjoy the moments you have in front of you, and to be quite frank, such moments are all you truly have.
Jermelle Macleod is a freshman studying philosophy. You can follow him on Twitter @jermelle_m