Syed Ibrahim Rizvi



Syed Ibrahim Rizvi


Fear Is The Key

Fear Is The Key

4 mins

Humans behave as ‘humans’ only when they express emotions. Life indeed would be bland without emotions; in fact it would be painful to live the lifespan without being emotionally active. Thus it is very interesting to understand the basis of these emotions and how they affect our lives.

Fear is an emotion which has a huge impact on human life. Unlike other emotions, fear has no opposite. There is no emotion which signifies a state when there is no fear. Fearless is just an expression to define a condition when one experiences fear but has been able to overcome it by physical or mental attitude.

Interestingly, the origin of fear is extremely hard to recognise. While happiness may be linked to joy and sadness may be linked to grief, fear has no apparent stimuli. Fear can emanate from a huge variety of sources, sometimes real and sometimes abstract.

Despite its not too apparent genesis, the universality of this emotion among humans and also animals, prove that fear has an evolutionary origin and somehow confers some kind of a survival benefit.

Scientists opine that fear in its most basic form is an organism’s response to an impending danger. The events which proceed inside the body, in the event of someone experiencing fear, perhaps provide a clue to the benefits of this universal emotion.

Fear is a powerful trigger for a hormone called adrenaline which is secreted inside the body. The actions of the hormone are focussed in priming the body to face the consequences of the instigating factor which has caused fear. Thus fear is our first line of defence for anything which we perceive as dangerous or harmful. This attribute would have played a very crucial role in human survival when life was fraught with dangers and not as easy as it is today.

While living organisms may categorize fear into different outcomes, including natural events, physical sources, mental distress, phobias and many others of unknown etiology, the physiological response of the body to any kind of fear is the same. As fear makes the body aware of certain unwanted situations and conditions, it provides to the body the necessary ammunition to protect against the evoking stimulus. It is the situation of continued fear which is harmful to the body and is classified as stress. Long term stress is known to harm the body and may lead to many unwanted conditions including diabetes and heart disease.

Keeping in view the evolutionary benefit of fear as a mechanism to make the body ready to fight, this emotion comes naturally and doesn't require to be taught. A child weeps naturally when strange faces are put before it and an adult person is able to run, beyond his natural ability, when a barking dog suddenly attacks. However many fears are a result of learned experience. A child will touch a hot object and an adult will taste something for the first time only to realize that it is foul. In both these cases the memory of the experienced harm is stored in the brain and added to the list of fears for future use. The list of ‘fears’ thus multiply following the maxim: Once bitten twice shy!

While humans share this innate emotion with animals, evolved intellect and an evolutionary history of 2.00.000 years have made homo sapiens exploit ‘fear’ for several different activities. The same fear which elicits the release of hormone adrenaline and makes the body ready to face challenges provides a different kind of thrill to a few who would enjoy this response of the body. Daredevil stunts, adventure sports, wildlife photography, and bungee jumping are just a few examples of activities which are a cause of fear to many but provide thrill for others.

The mechanism how humans react to different kinds of fears sometimes becomes a basis for categorization. The whole concept of decision making involves learning to balance fears and thereby taking risks. After all ‘risk’ is just an example of treading a path with an inherent ‘fear’ but having the possibility of better returns. In the age of merciless market dynamics, a successful manager is expected to walk a tightrope between lurking fears and safe options.

History is testimony to the fact that leaders and successful men had the ability to tide over their fears. Those who take risks always do knowingly that the decision is pregnant with the fear of losing.

The joy of fear is something only humans are able to experience. Looking back in time, the endless school years with the almost perpetual fear of examinations, is perhaps my most cherished memory!    

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