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Fear itself

 President Franklin D. Roosevelt in 1933, the year of his First Inaugural Address, in which he told Americans they had “nothing to fear but fear itself.” Photograph by Elias Goldensky.

President Franklin D. Roosevelt in 1933, the year of his First Inaugural Address, in which he told Americans they had “nothing to fear but fear itself.” Photograph by Elias Goldensky.

I wanted to take a break from the usual sports/culture posts on this blog to discuss two subjects that have always fascinated me – fear and its companion, anger.

Indeed, anger is often the result of fear.

There’s a lot of both in America these days, the kind of fear that leads to prejudice, rage, indecency, betrayal, disrespect, destructiveness – madness.

It was President Franklin D. Roosevelt who told Americans in the depths of the Great Depression that “the only thing we have to fear is fear itself.” It’s worth putting that quote in context as it comes within the first paragraph of his First Inaugural Address in 1933:

“I am certain that my fellow Americans expect that on my induction into the Presidency I will address them with a candor and a decision which the present situation of our people impel. This is preeminently the time to speak the truth, the whole truth, frankly and boldly. Nor need we shrink from honestly facing conditions in our country today. This great Nation will endure as it has endured, will revive and will prosper. 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. In every dark hour of our national life a leadership of frankness and vigor has met with that understanding and support of the people themselves which is essential to victory. I am convinced that you will again give that support to leadership in these critical days.”

FDR was stating bluntly what I have always believed: Fear can paralyze you into inaction or false action – the kind of action that only masquerades as advancement but really sets you, and civilization, back.

But fear – as one of the characters in my forthcoming novel “The Penalty for Holding” notes – can also set you free. Remember fear and anger are just qualities. They’re only good or bad in context, which provides perspective. Righteous anger can motivate you to social justice. Fear can provide you with the impetus to take a necessary risk.

The question for us as individuals and as a nation is this: Are we going to let fear paralyze us, or are we going to use it to take wing and set ourselves free?