Recognizing and Overcoming Fear
By Richard Kieninger
In the process of growing through new and better ways of relating to our world it is possible to reach a plateau or impasse in our growth due to certain obstacles. One of these obstacle is fear and this fear blocks our advancement in interpersonal relationships. These aren’t necessarily great fears, but rather everyday things that have become so common that we don’t even see them any longer. Gossip is a specific obstacle—its definition broader than most of us are used to thinking about. I’d like us to explore these areas together and bring them to awareness so that we can deal with them openly.
Those following the path set forth by the Brotherhoods have progressed so tremendously over the years that people who knew us years ago could never have imagined that this is how we would have evolved. Most of us have passed through so many different phases, and it’s been so gradual, that it’s hard for us, as individuals, to recognize all the growth we have accomplished. All of us are pushing so hard to overcome the next problem in our personal lives (our current project with which we’re dealing looms so large in front of us) that we tend to forget all the good things we’ve already managed to develop in our personal lives. Improved ways soon become our new norm and the base from which we operate. We can easily forget that just a few years ago we didn’t have that base. I think we underrate ourselves unconsciously because there are so many things we each need to work on. If we would discuss this process with other people, we’d find that they too have gone through the same kinds of struggles, and that they have a few tips to help us get through ours. But this is another one of those little fears that we rarely talk about. We don’t want to let people know that we’ve got problems or that we are struggling with something.
The first thing we all need to do is to confront ourselves to determine who and what we are—and that’s scary. Every time we’re at the leading edge of experiencing any new piece of knowledge—whether it relates to our emotions or to a new job or bettering ourselves or our effectiveness—we’re at the edge of the unknown. Unknowns are always unsettling and we all tend to avoid them unless absolutely necessary. One of the things we have to get used to is that we’re always going to be pushing against the frontiers of our own awareness and of the knowledge that is going to be essential to our survival in the coming years. There’s a build-up of anxiety around any pursuit of which we are unsure, and encountering ourselves is another one of those scary things we would prefer to avoid. When we undertake personal growth therapies, where we’re forced to encounter ourselves, we can feel great about the results after we’ve gone through the exercises. But I can’t say that most people are eager to go through the turmoil that stands between where they are today and the benefits they’re going to enjoy after they go through another one of those exercises. To be sure, they enjoy the new insights that they can have about themselves after it’s over. There is no doubt about it. People following the Brotherhoods’ program for advancement are pretty much dedicated to pursuing fulfillment of their human potential.
Until such time as we’re willing to encounter who we are, it’s very difficult to allow other people to truly engage us in depth—and so we set up defenses. The techniques for these defenses are picked up from infancy onward just by living in the culture. We develop all kinds of ways to keep people at bay so that they don’t see who we are. Almost everyone seems to regard himself as basically something to be hidden. We never measure up to the expectations of our parents or the school or the church! Of course, our boss is never satisfied—we could always do more and better—and that makes us feel a little guilty. We don’t want to reveal ourselves so that we are vulnerable to others’ claims of their superiority and their one-up-manship games. Our real fears about that sort of thing cause us to protect ourselves by chronically hiding our true inner selves from others; but in that lifelong defense mode, we also tend to hide our “faults” from our own awareness.
When we stop being in touch with our makeup, we cannot improve effectively what we regard as personal shortcomings. Moreover, much of our very humanness—the thing we share in common with everyone else—is also blocked from sharing with other persons. I think it would be very useful if we could come to realize that who and what we are is really good. We are decent folks, regardless of the idea that we have not fully arrived at the excellence we are pursuing. Acknowledge what we’ve accomplished thus far!
I’m aware that when we look around us, other people seem to be cool and smooth and have it all together while we’re struggling with inner hidden turmoils and trying to change ourselves and grow. Their protective fronts and calm exteriors are designed to make us suppose that they have solved the problems of effective living, whereas we know we haven’t. Well, that’s not correct! Everyone is in the same boat. It only appears that they don’t have those kinds of problems. The main thing to remember is that we are all human beings, and we share that in common with every other person on this planet. There is so much good in all of us, that we should learn how to be vulnerable and expose the riches that we truly are to other people so that they can reciprocate.
This requires, of course, that we conscientiously make it safe for other people to do so. This is really very simple. Many people who have been in Radix group intensives1 have felt a marvelous rapport with all the other participants whose troubles they’ve had a chance to touch upon. We find that their troubles strike very sympathetic cords in our own experience and our own feelings. We begin to detect how universal we are in the experiences we’ve all had to cope with and how we try to deal with them mostly by burying them. But burying these only diminishes our loving relationships with other people, with children and other adults, with people in the workplace as well as with friends and neighbors. I think all of us could be closer to just about everyone we know, and yet we are wary because it has been pounded into us from bitter experience in childhood, high school, and college that some people will tend to manipulate us when they have some piece of inside information about us.
I’d like to think that we can avoid doing that and stop perpetuating all those fear-engendering techniques that people use to control and manipulate others. The one-up-manship game is so widespread that I think most of us don’t even recognize how frequently it’s played on us, yet we protect ourselves against it instinctively. From the time we were small children we may have had a brother or sister against whom we were compared. We quickly learned that someone was trying to get us to behave in some particular way by comparing us unfavorably with somebody else, and we didn’t like it. And that play is widespread in the entire society. When we know we’ve been doing a good job and ask the boss for a raise, he can find all kinds of things to say to put us down, and it’s crushing. Let’s pray we don’t ever do those kinds of things here. Recognize them for what they are and avoid them.
Gossip is another technique for controlling the behavior of others. The old Judaic technique of controlling others through fear, guilt, and shame is not only physically brutal, but crippling emotionally and psychologically. St. Paul managed to do a marvelous job in overcoming what Christ and St. John had to say. Paul managed to impose the age-old social control techniques upon the people who were becoming the first Christians. The philosophy and mores he called for followed the Jewish Bible, the Jewish Prophets, and the Jewish traditions reaffirmed by Christ, and Paul hoped to whip the Gentiles into shape and to make civilized Jews out of them. In the process, he used the traditionally Jewish techniques of shaming people, bringing ostracism techniques into play, and shunning those who did not fit in or didn’t think the same way. Of course, that was only part of his way of getting people to change from one way of thinking to an entirely different one. He managed to invoke highly judgmental behavior among the followers of his version of what Christ’s view of Judaism should have been. He used the peer pressure of shaming people into the desired behavior as well as fear of going to Hell.
Gossip is a technique of social control which threatens to undermine somebody else’s reputation and this makes people conform by imputing to their motivations shameful things so that they will stop doing whatever is not acceptable. A person may actually be acting in ways that are good and useful and beautiful for themselves and for other people; but if it seems dangerous to those who are in charge, then it is imputed to be something sinful.
If we can just accept the fact that we are all going through the same kind of growth problems and emotional stretching, we will feel more open and trusting knowing we are all brothers and sisters under the skin. But if our thinking is that we must cover ourselves because people might use information arising out of private communications or personal awarenesses to gossip about our problems, then we would feel unsafe about trusting them in the future.
There are two ways to deal with people and our environment: positive reinforcement and negative reinforcement. Learning the techniques of positive reinforcement is learning how to cleave through life without leaving ripples in your wake. We can usually come up with a better way of doing things if we think about it. For instance, if we rely on the way we were raised in order to raise our own children, we will just be passing along Old Order ways. Fortunately, there are books with suggestions on better ways of dealing with our children, but that’s not easy. Every so often we may go on automatic when our children irritate us, yet we can keep diminishing those kinds of life diminishing responses.
Nothing happens overnight. We can’t make all the changes in one generation that are going to be required for the Nation of God, but we can sure make some very impressive strides forward. We have many tools available, as well as our thinking about how to do things in a consciously better way.
Another pursuit of excellence involves learning how to deal with people in a better way by not being in an adversarial position with them, but rather having a loving neighbor relation with them. We, along with our neighbors, need to support a team effort in order for all of us to prosper. We learned a long time ago that the British disciplinary system of caning really gets results with children if silence and order is what is most desired in the classroom. But the resultant anxiety in the student brings an almost total halt to learning. So, do we want to educate children, or do we want them to be obedient due to terror? The fact of this either-or paradox requires a lot of rethinking about the traditional classroom. Without question, it is better to inspire a student rather than command him to learn, but that takes more skill, effort, and time on the part of the teacher. It is the same with encouraging a fellow worker to do his part efficiently as well as be a conscientious citizen. It takes time and skill on our part. Fortunately, there are many books by psychologists which can give us better insights into ways of behaving.
The main point is that when someone is being open with us, he is revealing his inner self and confronting us at the level where he really is in life, and this is pretty rare. Most of us have to deal with facades and posturings of all sorts, and we do the same thing in return. This hides ourselves from one another. We have all been subjected to that all of our lives before we encountered the Brotherhoods’ methods, and it dictated the nature of our personalities. That’s how human beings everywhere in our culture are. Western man is his persona!
But this is NOT basic human nature, rather they are the responses we’ve learned through a lifetime of defense against a multitude of manipulators. So when a person is being open with us, respect that revelation of his “quivering” inner self. It’s scary putting your ultimate humanity on the line. Many of us have learned how to be open and revelatory with our lover. We have learned to trust that person, and because of it we may decide that we want to spend our life with him or her because we can really be ourselves. But even then we probably never fully open up. We’re always afraid the other person will use us because we've seen the old, miserable, destructive battle of the sexes that has been instilled in our culture by Apollonian ways of doing things. Many couples that have been married for twenty years and have raised a couple of children through high school, still do not really know one another. One example of this that he plays at being a macho man and she plays at being a helpless woman. She’s been taught to wheedle and beg her needs from her macho husband who dispenses largesse if it so pleases him, and the whole game is a fake. Marriages, essential human dignity, and what we mean to one another are somehow abridged by that.
We have built into us automatic defense mechanisms against the hurtful things that happen to us in our culture. Traumatic experiences that happened to us in the schoolyard are still dealing through us, still working, still in some way diminishing us. It is proper that we are seeking ways to get rid of those old hang-ups. Children need to be totally loved unconditionally. They are helpless and sensitive Egos, and they are entitled to total love and acceptance of who they are, though not necessarily of what they do. Their behavior can be modified so that they will behave better. After one becomes an adult, he is then fully responsible for everything he does to other people.
There are ways to safely be close and vulnerable with all our neighbors. The person who, for some reason needs to continue to be manipulative in a community where everybody else is very open with one another, soon has to change or else be perceived as a manipulator. People will always be wary of a person who is manipulative of them. His eventual isolation will result from people naturally defending themselves from him while they continue to be open with the other people who in their experience offer safer relationships.
We judge others for our own protection; but we should not convey our judgments to a third party, because that third party may engage the person with whom we are having difficulty on a different level and in an entirely different way. Everyone is entitled to the chance to have a new way of dealing with a new person without our prejudicing their relationship. If someone says, “Listen, I’ve got to tell you about so and so” he wary and please disregard them. We should deal with the person under discussion on our terms according to our way of doing things. Don’t heed or even listen to the prejudices of other people; thereby we can help stop that kind of chatter and put an end to that old game. We must judge for ourselves how every person is influencing us. The Brotherhoods are very loving and accepting. They encourage in every way all the good aspects of an individual. We must do likewise.
We have to get over such expressions of fear as, “I own that person’s love,” and “My child should restrict his love to me and not to the neighbors or to his teacher.” Some mothers may become jealous or feel greatly threatened by the teacher because the child came home and said, “I sure love my teacher.” To try to own someone’s love or to restrict and assert that his love must be ours exclusively is foolish because it can’t be done. Everyone must learn to love many people. The more positive and loving linkages a human being has with others the more sane he is.
There are multiple messages that are often sent to us, and we must learn to uncover and decode each of their meanings in order to deal effectively with the “sender.” For instance, a person’s words may be giving one message, his body language another, and his emotional state yet another! You may think that the person giving these many messages is confused or “doesn’t know their own mind” however this is normal behavior until a person makes up their mind. The person who expresses the same message through all of his expressions is truly "together."
Learning to understand the meaning of each message while it is being communicated is an important skill that leads to higher attainment of discrimination. A further step is to understand and respond to the most important message. Above all else, never communicate your analysis of these multiple messages. That is your advancement and must remain between you and your teacher.
It’s considered acceptable for us to talk about Christ’s love being manifest in all of us, but some people who pay lip service to love also send restrictive messages via body language or frowns or uptight emotions that say you better not dare try being loving. Those who are afraid of expressing love with other people and those who seek to own the love of their loved ones really don’t want to see Christ’s vision of a loving world include them.
We have to confront that and find out why we’re afraid. The causes are uncoverable; yet, is easier to hide our reasons because it is painful to go through any change in attitude.
Most of us do not have the insights to know exactly how to improve another person and so we can easily add to their burdens. We know that we appreciate being given room to work through the difficult challenges in our lives. We need that acceptance of others, and we need people to support us in our struggles toward self-improvement.
We all want people to be loving and beautiful and to have a rich closeness with one another. How marvelous it would be to actually feel that with everyone! It is not only possible, it is virtually essential to our being an effective group. We’re so much en rapport under those circumstances that none has to give instructions about what to do next. The group just moves in that direction spontaneously and simultaneously. Then it’s like we all dance in step to some silent music that is inherent in being so close to one another.
1 Radix intensives are self-educating techniques, conducted with an instructor, which are designed to unblock a person’s emotions that my be locked in muscular armorings so that he can deal with them in an effective manner.