Psychiatrists, pastors, counsellors and spiritual elders confirm that the general level of fear among people is on the increase. It seems to extend across all walks of life and to all kinds of people. Children are beginning to dread school exams; fresh graduates develop cold feet before an interview; mothers worry about their offspring; young couples agonise over their savings and budgets; old people are terrified by insecurity and loneliness; high-flying executives at the peak of their careers give in to stress and tension over fears of rivalry and competition.
Drop a little quantity of potassium permanganate into a large container and the water turns pink almost instantly. Even so quickly does fear spread through one’s life and personality.
Life is full of situations that seem to trigger off fear.
A housewife went to the neighbourhood grocery store with her monthly shopping list. She greeted the shopkeeper cheerfully, for she had known him long. “How’s business these days?” she began.
The shopkeeper was filling up tax forms, which had become compulsory for all small businesses. He was confused, bewildered and slightly scared. What if they raided his shop? What if they insisted on checking his accounts? What if they decided to ‘seal’ his shop for irregularities, which he was not aware of?
“How’s business these days?” repeated the cheerful customer. “What can I say, madam,” he sighed, pushing aside the tax return forms. “Life is tough. Prices are going up. Did you know tur dal [pigeon pea] costs Rs. 40 per kg at wholesale rates? I don’t know how I can continue in this business for long!”
The lady was dismayed: tur dal at Rs. 40 per kg and that too at wholesale prices! “Oh my God,” she thought. “That means he will charge me at least Rs. 45 per kg!” Hastily, she began to calculate. With three growing children to feed, she was conscious of her food budget, and had to walk a tightrope between overspending and depriving her family of good food.
“What’s the current price of tur dal?” she demanded suddenly.
“Oh, it’s still at Rs.34 per kg,” was the reply.
She took a quick decision. “Please send 50kg tur dal to my house right away, and add it to my bill this month,” she said. She made up her mind that she would now buy in bulk, and store the dal for future use. Of course, she had not budgeted for such a large quantity of lentil. But she would cut back on something else—though she could not imagine what it would be.
When she returned home after placing the order, she was not the happy, relaxed woman who had walked to the shop just a few minutes ago. Inflation, rising food prices, her monthly budget, the children’s school fees, her husband’s promotion and increment—everything created a complex fear in her mind. How was she going to manage?
People are anxious when the budget is presented in the parliament. People worry when oil prices go up. People are afraid when foreigners come to live in their locality. People worry when share prices fall. Anything and everything triggers fear these days.
Fear is illogical. We are afraid of losing our jobs—but we are also afraid to seek new positions. I know a few people who are terrified of contracting a major illness; but they are even more scared to meet a doctor and undergo tests. Some young women are afraid of marriage as they fear losing their identity; the idea of remaining single too makes them feel insecure. There are many old people who are terrified of the years that lie ahead of them, but they are equally haunted by the fear of death.
We are afraid to die and we are afraid to live because life has become so complicated, risky and insecure.
“A ship in the harbour is safe,” goes the saying. But that is not what ships are built for.
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