People Are Scared

In a different way than I ever have before, I’ve been paying attention to people these past few months.

Over the past several years, I studied relationships, psychology, sociology, peoples’ motivations, etc. I studied Myers Briggs, the Enneagram, The Big Five, and all that.

But when I read a section in Robert Greene’s Mastery about how to observe people, something clicked into place that wasn’t there before: I’d been trying to understand how people work in general more than I had been trying to understand individuals. I’d been trying to understand the models that people functioned under, rather observing their specific actions and motivations.

I started observing people individually and without judgment. I might observe something that someone did that I wouldn’t do myself, and I would look deeper at the motivation of why the person handled the situation the way they did. I would try and understand where that decision came from. I would try and understand what the person was trying to avoid and what they were trying to get.

In the end, I found one commonality: People Are Scared.

In almost every person and action I observed, I saw that the majority of individuals (including myself) were motivated most by avoiding pain. Arguments, pleasures, indulgences, disagreements, distractions, criticisms…they all seemed to be tied back to a desire to avoid pain and suffering.

Yes, some people are happy, but even in the happiest of people I saw, I could also see the pain they lived with and the delicate perch of their happiness upon their fears.

Some of you will say read this and feel that it doesn’t apply to you. That you’re perfectly happy and content. And I’m going to disagree with you. If you don’t see your fear, consider perhaps that you simply don’t connect with it. That’s all I’m going to say about that.

Once I saw that nearly everyone has a deep reservoir of fear (there are extremely rare exceptions to the tune of one-in-a-million, which I won’t discuss here), I seemed to connect with that fear in a sad sort of way. Why must we all live like this?

But then I felt a sense of compassion in a way I hadn’t before.

We’re all here. We’re all suffering in some sense of the word. And when someone does something that affects me or someone else in a painful way, it’s not because they’re a bad person, it’s because they’re scared. And if I can make myself vulnerable to the truth that the pain I feel from something someone did is unintentional, and they can make themselves vulnerable to their own fear, maybe we can connect, not out of fear, but out of something deeper and more lovingly-human.

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  1. I went to see a horror movie last weekend (not something I normally see in theaters) and I wondered why people were talking and getting up to go to the bathroom more than other movies I’d been to. I’m fairly certain the answer is fear.

    Sometimes I wonder if denial is bliss. B/c I’m someone who is acutely aware of my severe anxiety. It’s a really tough way to live.

    (Incidentally, the horror movie wasn’t very scary to me. Is it because I live with large amounts of fear everyday?)

    Also – anger is often fear-based.


  2. Ben,

    I think you have touched on why social media can turn into such an ugly place so quickly. It serves to feed the fear for many while concurrently offering the perception of release.

    SM is dangerous in that many can put a person’s fears aside by adopting personas etc. These are simply coping mechanisms and do nothing to allay fears, it’s simply a psychological salve of sorts.

    We are on a slippery slope especially in the US. The way you are talking flies in the face of convention especially for men who are programmed to be stoic and to be under control all the time. We then wonder why someone ‘snapped’ and performs some egregious or violent act. It’s simply a release of not being allowed (without being stigmatized) to express the fear we all have on some level and then ultimately deal with it to some degree.

    Social constructs of today only serve to make this situation you are talking about even worse. The only way we can move forward is individually, one person at a time. It’s an enlightened approach, of sorts, so not enough will subscribe but, hey, we have to start somewhere, right?

    I’m just afraid not enough people (especially men) will catch on (pun intended since I use humor to mask fear etc etc).

    Thanks for making me think.


  3. I love this post.

    I think it’s so true – I know it is for me! The a majority of what I classify as suffering is avoidance of pain.

    Suffering = Discomfort x Resistance

    I appreciate the seeing compassion and the truth of others through this lens. Very helpful.

    Thank you!


  4. Amazingly refreshing, modern take on an historical overview of mankind, where there is no word from the Lord, the people perish (weaken spiritually until soul is lost eternally).

    Hope, Faith, and Love are evaporating around us in every corner of the world. However, there is Hope in the Truth. There is Life in the Way.

    Your humanistic outreach is moving. I hope your readers are also stirred in their spirit – desiring to live without fear of tomorrow. Jesus Christ can give rest to the weary.


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