Fear. And Love.


What should we think about fear? Maybe Aristotle can guide us in the way he assessed the very different, but often related, emotion of anger. He believed the value of this powerful state of mind and heart could be revealed by such questions as: Toward what or whom? In what measure? For how long? And to what end? We should probably ask the same questions about any instance of fear. When there are real dangers, fear is rational. And it can be reasonable for us to allow it sometimes to call the shots, determining our thoughts and actions at a particular moment, or in a certain fraught situation, and thus guiding our behavior then and there. But this should not be a common occurrence. And there could be a better alternative.

A courageous person never lets fear unhinge him or her and always seeks to do the right thing, regardless of any dangers that might loom and threaten. Sometimes, that means listening to fear and accepting its guidance to pause, or stop, or retreat, or avoid. There are times when it's wise to be moved by fear. But in modern life, this emotion tends to intrude into our thoughts and feelings much more often than its help is needed. Practical wisdom, or prudence, demands that we respect a wide range of values in our actions, and those values encompass proper concerns for our own health and self preservation, as well as for those we love, and even to consider and protect a positive reputation among at least the wise in our communities. But fear is often a bully in its warnings that we may lose what we value, and is as subtle as any insidious force can be.

Fear has a thousand faces. It quite often presents itself as something other than what it is—as perhaps a common sense and reasonable desire for safety, or security, or comfort, or simply for what's known, as distinct from what might be clearly uncertain and unknown. It can make itself look like altruism, or moderation, or sheer rationality, and even when it's the polar opposite of these things.

I've let fear influence my choices far too often in life. But I never recognized it at the time. I was a master of self deception. And, whether I know you well or not, I can imagine that you are, too. We all have this unfortunate skill. We can rationalize almost anything. And the smarter we are, the more convincing we can be, not only to others, but to ourselves. We allow fear to mask itself as a proper concern for another person, or as the voice of reason, when it's not that at all. And we need to learn the form of discernment, a component of wisdom, that allows us to spot our emotions and motivations for what they are, rather than being moved around by what they appear to be. It's almost as if negative emotions can be illusionist shape-shifters and masters of disguise. Part of the Platonic program of stripping away illusions,and getting beyond appearances means unmasking them and refusing them illegitimate power.

Fear can present itself as any reasonable person's primary concern. After all, what's more important than survival, it asks us. Well, perhaps a lot. I've come to see fear as being, at best, a rare and secondary motivator along the course of an imperfect life. Yes, it can be helpful. And for that we should thank it. By I now refuse to allow it to call the shots as often as it would like. I'll feel its cousin anxiety arise within me, but nowadays I'll spot it, and question its validity in the moment or the situation, and dismiss it from my heart and mind when it's counterproductive, or in other ways uncalled for. I hope you will, too.

Salespeople are trained in some organizations to act on the fact that most people are much more motivated by a fear of loss than by a desire of gain. And I have a corresponding suggestion: We should not be among those fearful people, and thus, by our own independence, diminish their numbers. No one has ever attained excellence or greatness by following a path of fear. No one ever made his or her best contribution to the world from a place of fear.

It's often been said that we're motivated by two forces, love and fear. I recommend love. It's a vastly better guide, overall, than fear. It can give us most of the occasional, admittedly positive results of fear, when it's working properly, and yet without the negative constraints and deceptions. Love, understood properly and done right, should be our prime mover and most consulted guide.

It's a perspective worth pondering. And in the end, I think that love is a mark of true courage. That's why we hesitate ever to attribute this virtue to suicide bombers or any terrorist. Their fanaticism may mimic courage and produce a counterfeit that's convincing in the minds of their fellow fanatics, but that's because they fail to understand the nature of true courage, by their blindness to true love. And any of us, in lesser ways, can make the same mistake. Love puts fear in its proper place. And as the Gospel says, perfect love casts out fear. When love is perfected, this alternative motivator is not needed at all. It's a state of being for us all to hope for and to seek to attain.


A Most Remarkable Book Signing


I recently had the great joy of speaking to nearly 600 Indiana judges, hosted by their Chief Justice and the Indiana Supreme Court, pictured above. After a lively hour of philosophy, a lot of the honorables stood in line during their lunch hour, trading food for philosophy, to buy a copy of The Oasis Within and have me sign it. The conversations we had as a result were amazing.

Judges confront daily the most troubling problems of our society, and most often the people causing those problems. They face difficulty, tragedy, and the entire range of human emotions played out in their courts. It has to be emotionally exhausting. And the workload never lets up. They don't have a hard week followed by a light load. It's endless. And the wonderful irony is that, surrounded by the greatest threats to societal disorder, they play such a crucial role in maintaining the order that allows for a flourishing culture. And, as you can imagine, it's never an easy job. Then, in their spare time, as if they have any, they do volunteer work in their communities. I was inspired just being with them.

One man recalled having heard me speak 21 years ago. He said the meeting occurred at the lowest period of his career and life, and that the hour had been just the inspiration he had needed. And now here he was, all those years later, flourishing and loving his work.

Another remembered that same event, all those years ago, and thanked me for in that talk having gotten him excited about philosophy, which he has read now for over twenty years. He works with addicts and tries to impart to them the best wisdom for living. He snatched up a copy of the new book as perhaps just the thing he needed to share with those he counsels.

The judges' enthusiasm for the new book was great to see. The Oasis Within is about inner resilience, outer results, and so much of the wisdom we need in navigating a challenging and often gratifying world. I look forward to hearing from the judges as they begin to read, ponder, and use the ideas in the book. It's a rare book signing where you see so many new books go out the door with so many avid readers who are in a position to use its ideas for great good in their communities and in their lives.

If you have a chance, thank a judge for all that they do! I sure took the opportunity I had to do so.

The Diary of Walid: Inner Peace


From the Appendix at the end of The Oasis Within, these are excerpts from a diary kept by the thirteen-year-old Egyptian boy, Walid, as he's crossing the desert in 1934 with his uncle Ali. At the end of the day, by the light of a candle or lamp, he writes down things he's learned from what he's heard, seen, and experienced. I'll provide some early samples here, and then comment.

An oasis is fun, safe, and relaxing. We can carry an oasis within us wherever we go, an inner place of calm and refreshment, by using our thoughts well.

We all have in our minds something like an emotional telescope. If we look through the end everyone uses, things will seem bigger than they really are. But we can flip it around and look through the other end. That will make things appear smaller and less threatening. So whenever anything looks big and overwhelming, say to yourself, “Flip the telescope!”

Almost anything needs interpretation. That’s where freedom begins.

Whether something is a big deal or not often turns on how we see it. If you think it’s a big deal, it is. But you can change your mind on many things and shrink them down to size.

Wisdom for life is about seeing things properly. It’s about perspective. This gives us power, because it brings peace to our hearts, and then we can think clearly, even in difficult times.

If I live most fully with my heart and mind in the reality of the present moment, I will feel better and be more effective.

Things are not always what they seem. In fact, they often aren’t.

Whenever life brings us a storm, we should use what we have, stay calm, and move quickly to respond well.

An oasis within us is a place of peace and power in our hearts.

We can learn the most from the most difficult things.

We can’t control the day, but only what we make of the day. We should always try to make the best of whatever comes our way.


Originally, The Oasis Within did not include Walid's Diary. A man I often see at the gym read the first draft of the book and he said, "It's amazing how many good ideas are in this book, really vital perspectives we all need. It would be really nice if there was some way to summarize the main points at the end, to help the reader remember all the great concepts."

I thought that was an interesting suggestion. But I had seen many books with summaries of chapters, or even of the whole book, that weren't very helpful, and were naturally very repetitive. I didn't want to add anything artificially to the book that had come to me, as if from outside me. So I waited. And then a little voice told me that Walid was keeping a journal during the trip across the desert. Sometimes he would record or summarize the wisdom he had gleaned from his uncle that day. Other times he would ponder it a bit more. And he would even have his own insights to add. And the journal began revealing itself, just as the chapters of the book had. Now, each novel in the subsequent series also has a diary at the end. To get these, I had to go into a zen meditative state and allow it to come to me. And it did.