It is intriguing to see that we carry with us so much fear at all times. I do not mean just individuals, but institutions like the market-place, the media industry. In fact, all our industries and institutions are infected with fear. What is most amusing about fear is that it is often more rampant in the most unexpected places. Fear does play an important role in our life, and it is a human need, a very basic human need. We experience fear when we feel that our safety and security is under threat. Often this threat is perceived and not realistic; we indulge in fear of the unknown.
We fret so much over the consequences of the unknown that often we opt to retreat rather than to take risks. This fear of the unknown can be more easily observed in younger children, in infants, who hold the desire to play and explore their surroundings, but are reluctant to venture too far away from the perceived safety and security of their parents. Later, as the children get older and gain more knowledge, they become more confident and able to take bigger risks to explore further afield. With time, the mind becomes more developed and powerful, as does its ability to deceptively hide the fears. We become highly skilled at hiding our fears even from ourselves, argues Maslow, in TOWARD A PSYCHOLOGY OF BEING (WILEY AND SONS, 1999, UK).
The pace of development and personal growth slows down quite sharply after reaching adulthood. The reasons are obvious. We deceive ourselves with “comfortability” (I have coined this word as it best expresses what I wish to say). We do this by telling ourselves that we are happy and satisfied with what we are. So we start protecting this “comfortability” with fear – the fear of the unknown. Fear creates anxiety, and the discomfort of anxiety propels us to stay away from all such acts that may threaten our safety or disrupt our comforts. Therefore we often find ourselves choosing between the two great antagonists, fear and progress. We must choose one or the other; either our comfort-zones that are protected by fear or progress.
(Source:TOWARD A PSYCHOLOGY OF BEING, WILEY AND SONS, 1999, UK)
The comfort-barriers have to be broken down, if we are to pursue progress. But to dismantle these barriers we need to understand precisely what these barriers are. The understanding we seek is called “self-knowledge” that is acquired through self-analysis. The real growth and real progress occurs after we have achieved self-knowledge, through introspection. It is often said that introspection is one of the most difficult and painful tasks a person may exercise in their lifetime, especially if the exercise is done with honesty and ruthlessness.
Self-knowledge is a great and awesome power, it enables us to control our deepest fears and overcome our fiercest challenges. But most of us fear it; we fear the self-knowledge itself; we practice fear to protect ourselves and our self-esteem. “We tend to be afraid of any knowledge that could cause us to despise ourselves or to make us feel inferior, weak worthless, evil, shameful,” argues Maslow. So, we avoid self-analysis to avoid the responsibility that comes with it. We choose to remain ignorant and stupid but safe in our comfort zone, our “comfortability”, avoiding the anxiety of responsibility. We become afraid of self-knowledge. What is so amusing about this fear of self-knowledge is that most of the time we are totally unaware of it.
Abraham Maslow’s book TOWARD A PSYCHOLOGY OF BEING (WILEY AND SONS, 1999, UK) is quite enlightening and motivational. The book is well written in an easy to understand language; it is a collection of Maslow’s lectures on the subject. I would recommend it to all therapists or individuals who may wish to understand the psychology and motivation of growth and self-actualization. I do agree with Maslow that only after we have achieved real maturity (self-knowledge) are we able to tackle all issues without invoking any fears inside ourselves. And those who manage to exercise introspection early on in their life also reap the best rewards in their life.
In life, we would never set sail in a ship that is not seaworthy and unable to survive a storm. But we never exercise that same level of introspection on ourselves. We fail the same way with our institutions. The reality is that we cannot say with our hand on our heart that our institutions are strong as a seaworthy ship and capable of surviving rough storms. Do our institutes really understand what and where their limits and potentials are? Or do we? We are certainly not aware of our limits and potentials. Our institutes are doomed to failure unless they exercise introspection and gain self-knowledge. Comfort-zones and ignorance may be easy options, but they are never the solution. If we want to restore ourselves, then being honest with the self and exercising introspection – all the time, continuously – should be our starting point.