To be afraid is part of the human condition. It is something we share with all other creatures. Of course we are not afraid for every minute of every day, either we perceive of nothing to be afraid or because we are able to suppress our fears. But few people live their lives without, at one time or the other, feeling fear.
Often, it is perfectly reasonable to be afraid. If an armed robber entered your home, and after he had left, you say, ‘I wasn’t afraid for a single minute’, you would be either an unusually courageous person or a very dishonest one. Many people can control fear and act sensibly despite it. True courage is not the absence of fear but the ability to master it.
Some common fears, however, are unreasonable. Many children are afraid of darkness, though most grow out of it, some adults experience it throughout their lives. When there is a known danger hidden in the darkness, it is reasonable to be afraid of that. But darkness itself is not dangerous and to fear it is irrational. One of the most irrational fears is the fear of blood. A sufferer from this fear is affected as soon as he sees blood, whether his own or another person’s own. The fear is irrational because blood cannot harm anyone who sees it. Nevertheless, some people are so strongly affected that they are unable to think or act sensibly and may even collapse in a faint.
Horses are afraid of the mere smell of blood: a well disciplined horse may tremble and sweat and do it’s best to avoid the place from which it thinks the odor comes. A common fear is the fear of thunder. Everyone knows that unless in the middle of a storm you and you stand on a high hill holding a piece of metal, you are not very likely to be struck by lightning. But this knowledge does not kill a sufferer’s fear. That begins as soon as a distant rumble of thunder is heard, rises to terror as the storm approaches and departs only when the thunder and lightning are far away. Animals share this fear, and it has often been noticed that birds in the trees remain absolutely silent during a day time storm but burst into songs when it is over. These and other similar fears – the fear of heights, the fear of being in a crowd, the fear of being in an enclosed space – are all irrational. But they are very real to those who suffer them. Their causes may vary from person to person.
It is usually thought that in each case the fear derives from from frightening experience in early childhood. But it may also be that each of these fears are, as it were, a partial reflection of the greatest, commonest and most rational fear of all, namely the fear of death, of which, for much of our daily lives , we are fortunately unaware.