Don Paglia | Marriage and Family Counseling. Constellations Workshops


Tip #40:

“There’s a fine line between fishing and just standing on the shore like an idiot.”

                                                                                                       Steven Wright

I’ve never caught deadpan comic Steven Wright with even the slightest grin, let alone have I seen him break into the tiniest chuckle, whenever he’s delivering one of his masterful pearls. But I can imagine him internally laughing while thinking that his last delivery ‘was pretty darn silly.’ The fine line between…  I suspect this quote has to do with one’s capacity for taking action.

We all know there are lots of very well-educated street bums and also lots of geniuses that never amount to much or contribute to making this planet any better. The one key ingredient often missing is in taking action(s).

There is a wonderful story of young two boys who were afraid to climb a fence in order to retrieve their baseball, so they threw their hats over the fence first so they’d have to go after them.

In 218 BC Hannibal did the same sort of thing when he needed to cross the Alps to get to Italy. He had his ships burned so there was only one way left to go – over the mountains. He made sure none in his army were tempted to go back or avoid the very difficult task of climbing those huge mountains.    

Looking like an idiot is not restricted to standing by the shore, of course, and it’s always an option. It just isn’t a very satisfying option. Sometimes we let our fear dictate our actions, and most especially, our inactions. We can become paralyzed by fear. It often begins with thoughts we generate… all those “what ifs.”

In the 1993 Adam Sandler album, he makes famous this repeated line, “They’re all going to laugh at you,” which is probably said or at least thought, by a lot more people than Adam Sandler. We forget that fear is illusionary. We completely miss how so much of our fear is based upon nonsense and foolish thinking.

I’ve addressed fear numerous times before, but it is so pervasive and central in our world – personally and globally – that it’s worth touching on again. Fear is our entrapment in a world that does not work. Look around if you need convincing.

Love is the antidote. We say “love makes the world go round,” but in reality the world we are compelled to operate in, too often, is a fear-based place. The opposite of love isn’t hate. The opposite of love is fear. Hate is but one of many manifestations of fear. There are lots of others: anger, selfishness, greed, violence, jealousy, envy, racism, sexism, homophobia, and on and on. 

John Lennon sang, “All you need is love.”  Of course we killed him. Too radical an idea? Jesus said this much earlier, and we know what happened to him. But love, radical or not, cannot be killed off. Also, love is more powerful than anything else. One person coming from a place of love is stronger and more powerful than, say, one hundred people coming from greed or some other aspect other than love. While we may not readily see it love, in the end, always endures.

Never in the history of our nation has there been such a communal experience of tragedy, and with it, off the chart fear, than when the World Trade Center twin towers came collapsing down. So many people saw this happening live. Others, all of us, would see these images repeatedly over and over again on television screens until they were seared into our brains. The images were so visceral and evoked mammoth amounts of fear. Terror of terrorism instantly went full throttle. We quickly became a nation where there was a suspected terrorist behind every tree! People added more locks on their doors and refused to go outside.

In 2001 our nation was in a terrible state of unparalleled fear and anxiety. Politicians and leaders, as did newscasters, talked about terrorism as if it were the Fifth Horseman of the Apocalypse. People became so frightened of flying in an airplane that one million people stopped flying for about one year following 9-11. Instead they traveled by car. One million more people now took to the highways, and during that year we saw more than one half as many more deaths on the highways than from the total number of people killed on those doomed flights of September 11. There was a huge rise in highway fatalities that year. The following year, people returned to flying and the traffic fatalities declined back to the usual numbers of the previous years. No one talked about this or saw car travel as dangerous. Fear clogged up the highways and fear is what killed those additional people. Traffic fatalities are not the major focus of the evening news, however, so even to this day no one thinks this was the case in 2001-2.

Here’s another example of the effects of fear: In 2019 there were 164,000 emergency room-treated-injuries from ladder accidents, and 300 deaths resulting from these ladder injuries. That same year eighteen deaths occurred from West Nile virus. We heard a lot on the news about West Nile virus; nothing about ladder accidents and deaths. According to these statistics, however, we have a ladder death epidemic! I have rarely heard of any ladder fatality on the evening news except if it was some large crane failure or some storm related incident.

My point is we focus on certain things and we get afraid. I do not like to climb a ladder to, say, clean 2nd floor windows, but when I do I use safe practices that includes a second person steadying the ladder. I don’t panic. I breathe as I go slowly about my task. I also silence the “what if’s.”

In 1933 FDR came into his presidency during the height of the Great Depression. His address is known for his famous remark:

That there is only one thing we have to fear … fear itself – nameless, unreasoning,

unjustified terror which paralyzes needed efforts to convert retreat into advance.”

Roosevelt knew there was plenty to fear aside from fear, but he also knew that “unreasoning fear” would certainly make things much more difficult and worse, and would greatly imped what needed to be handled.

FDR lifted this now famous line from Henry David Thoreau. Thoreau got it from Michel de Montaigne, who wrote “the thing I fear most is fear.” Montaigne wrote this more than three and a half centuries ago. He wrote: “The oldest and strongest emotion of mankind is fear and the oldest and strongest kind of fear is fear of the unknown.” My point: Our problem with fear is not new.

Don’t get me wrong, fear can be a useful and a constructive emotion. When we worry about a risk, we pay more attention and take action when warranted. Fear keeps us alive and thriving. Our species owes its very existence to fear. But “unreasoning fear” is another matter. And it is “unreasoning fear” that could have killed our Country during the Great Depression. It is what could kill our Country today.

Fear and risk are the hot topics of today. Some say we worry more than any previous generation; that we live in culture of fear. Why we are so fearful is for another time. I simply wish to point out that while we are fearful we are living longer than ever before, have few diseases, and fewer wars. There have even been massive gains to reduce poverty. We also have lower crime, and better economic opportunities etc. I know we have much more to do, but we often fail to see the improvements we do have.  I am simply saying these improvements seem to run counter to the “unreasoning fear” many carry about today. I do recognize there are things we must attend to like the environment and take major actions. Denial and/or unreasoning fear will not work. So let me speak to the way out of this daunting fear; this vicious negative cycle that keeps us so stuck. Maybe you’ve heard of it. I mentioned it already: It’s called LOVE.

Love is the antidote. It is the solution. Perhaps part of our problem as to why we don’t take this to heart is because we don’t think of love in a very accurate or realistic way. Instead we think of love as something soupy; as soft and weak. We’re caught up in some goofy, distorted, Hollywood version of love. Real Love is not foolish in anyway at all. Real Love is powerful. It is transformative.

Lately my wife and I have had the opportunity of babysitting for our newest grandchild, Elle. She is six months old, and she is exquisite. She is pure love. She is my latest reminder of how we were all originally programmed perfectly from love. We had a natural tendency to focus on love. We were, as Elle is now, connected to a world much richer than the one we connect to now. It was a world full of enchantment with a sense of the miraculous.

When her tiny fingers wrap around one of my fingers I am in rapture. It is a stunning experience. Her smile can melt the most hardened criminal. Her sleeping and relaxation is soothing. Her beauty is breath taking. She is the essence of love.

Eventually, as we grow, we were taught to focus elsewhere, not toward the natural focus toward love. We were taught to think unnaturally and to think instead with a philosophy of seeing the world that contradicts the way we are. We were taught to think thoughts like competition, struggle, sickness, limitations, guilt, and that we’re each separate from one another.

This thinking of the world is not based on love. Little Elle, and all of us, begin with love. Eventually we end up thinking from fear. Love isn’t material. We can’t see it with our physical eyes or hear with our physical ears. Love is energy. It requires a different kind of “seeing” – a different kind of knowing or thinking.

While we cannot see love, it can be expressed, and it is experienced. It shows up as kindness, giving, mercy, compassion, peace, joy, acceptance, non-judgment, joining, and as intimacy. 

Fear is our shared lovelessness. It is our individual and collective hell. When fear is expressed, we recognize it as anger, abuse, disease, pain, greed, addiction, selfishness, obsession, corruption, violence, and war.

Love is within all of us. It cannot be destroyed; it can only be hidden. We do not need to go find love, but rather we need to unbury it from within our soul. The world we knew as children – Elle’s world – is still buried within our hearts and minds.  There’s a fine line here, indeed. It calls for us to step into a paradigm shift.

“Unless we can become like little children, you will never enter the kingdom of God.” (Matthew 18:3).

Isn’t about time for all of us to sing together, in harmony?

“All you need is love, love is all you need.”