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Doctor’s Diary: Fear Is a Gift from Our Designer

Geoffrey Simmons

Editor’s note: Dr. Simmons is the author most recently of Are We Here to Re-Create Ourselves? He is a Fellow with Discovery Institute’s Center for Science & Culture.

As a physician, I have cared for many patients who were fearful. Often with good reason, but not always. Might fear actually be a purposeful design? Might it be present to protect a person?

One might liken fear to pain, which is a similar gift. How would we have survived as a species if running bare-footed across sharp rocks or being stung by an irritated hive of yellow jackets (or murder hornets!) didn’t hurt? Without pain how would a child learn not to touch a hot stove? Or, pull away immediately to lessen the damage?

In 1997, Gavin de Becker authored The Gift of Fear in which he cogently cited many examples of fear that can be protective. For example, if you were to park on top of a five-story parking structure late at night and found a deranged-looking guy in the elevator, would you go inside?  Of course not. It’s fear that tells you not to, just as fear rightly told primitive man to stay out of dark caves and not to play with angry monkeys. Intense fear can trigger the sudden “fight or flight” response, a lifesaving reaction. Under the influence of fear, we immediately gain strength. We also sweat profusely, to become slippery, so as to escape another’s clutches.

Two Other Gifts

Fear can be excessive. What’s needed to moderate it are intelligence and common sense, which are two others gifts of our design.

The coronavirus pandemic has been very taxing for everyone. It is scary. It can, in the extreme, even be paralyzing. But we must be capable of feeling fear just as we must be capable of feeling pain. Both keep us alive.

We are given many emotions by our designer. Among them are love, compassion, joy, serenity, and courage. Fear is a different kind of emotion. Only in its absence do we have the open frame of mind to think about it objectively and truly appreciate it. It must be listened to when present. Sometimes, it must be managed. But, never ever fear fear.

Photo credit: Dieter K, via Flickr.