Nothing to Fear
by Helen Bryant
Suitable for Whole School (Sec)
To consider whether or not our fears are ever really real.
Preparation and materials
- Gather a few images of Franklin D. Roosevelt and his wife Eleanor and have the means to display them during the assembly (optional).
- Choose some peaceful music and have the means to play it at the end of the assembly.
- 'The only thing we have to fear is fear itself.' This is a quote from a former American president, Franklin D. Roosevelt's inaugural address. He was president at the start of the Second World War.
- I want to consider this quote today and look at what he meant. He went on to say after this that to call fear 'nameless, unreasoning . . . paralyses'. I think FDR had a pretty good understanding of fear and what it does to people, even to a nation. It's an emotion, a feeling and yet it holds enormous power.
- Michel de Montaigne said, 'there is no passion so contagious as that of fear'. Think about when you were younger and people told ghost stories or other scary ones. You would wind yourselves up and become really frightened. The same happens in a stampede - people panic, are frightened and, before you know it, there's a crush and they end up being hurt or even killed.
It's the herd instinct in us that means we follow others in order to protect ourselves and escape danger. We follow our instincts, but this means we sense fear and tend to react to it in a fearful way.
- The word 'fear' comes from an old English word for 'calamity' or 'danger', so the very root of the word itself is connected with the need to protect oneself or others from danger or something that could be harmful.
Of course, fear and what people are afraid of have probably changed over time. Our medieval ancestors will likely have been afraid of starving due to crop failure rather than terrorism, as we are today.
- It may seem strange, but it pays to be afraid at times because it's a natural response that keeps us safe. Fear is a vital reaction to possible physical and emotional danger. If we didn't feel it, we wouldn't be nudged to protect ourselves, look after others or respond appropriately to the threats that face us. Equally, at times we fear situations that are far from life-or-death ones and fear fear itself. It's like it manifests itself; it becomes something that is real. That is, we perceive it as being real even if it hasn't happened yet or is unlikely to happen.
- I want you to think now, if fear was a colour, what colour would it be?
Would it be red for danger, black for the dark or something else?
Does it have a form? Darkness, for example, may well be formless, like a void, but maybe your fears manifest themselves in other ways.
Perhaps you are afraid of snakes, maybe it's heights, new situations or past experiences.
Maybe your fears manifest themselves as your imagination running away with you, thinking of the worst that might happen.
Maybe a horror film or an image from a horror film or a passage from a book has frightened you.
Some people are frightened by clowns, dragons, anything that is suspicious or unnatural or even something that we do not understand.
The fear of death comes high on the list of things people are frightened of. I wonder if this is because we do not truly understand what happens afterwards. We cannot know, so we fear the possible outcome.
- So, going back to FDR's words - 'the only thing we have to fear is fear itself - if you take the fear out of something, it becomes easier. By facing up to our fears, we can see them for what they really are and try to overcome them. Incidentally, one of the major fears young people have is a fear of failure.
Time for reflection
In response to that fear I give you a quote from another Roosevelt, this time Eleanor:
you gain strength, courage and confidence by every experience in which you really stop to look fear in the face . . . You must do the thing you think you cannot do.
By doing this, we will see what we fear for what it truly is - something that paralyses us, harms us and, mostly, is detrimental to us and to our ability to move forwards.
Spend a moment thinking about what you’re scared of or nervous about. Is it really worth the energy? If it is, how can you prepare yourself fully?
Chosen peaceful music