It has often been said that when we express anger, what is beneath that anger is something more akin to fear. So if, for example, someone is angry that they got cut off at an intersection, then they were ACTUALLY afraid of something…such as, say, being hit by a vehicle. I have often found this fascinating because something like this can often become a “catch phrase” in pop psychology. And then from there everyone thinks that it is absolute truth. Before you know it, the entire thing becomes a form of social dogma. I think sometimes that anger gets disqualified, which is another form of pandemic in our society right now. People are actually afraid of ANGER, and so when someone expresses anger, they revert to the old standby of, “What are you actually afraid of?” In the case of getting cut off at an intersection, it is actually quite valid to be angry at another driver’s stupidity or neglect. And yes, there may also be some fear of being hit mixed in there. It does not have to be just one or another…fear or anger. That is far too duplicitous and very easy to fall back on. Instead of either/or, we need to look more into a both/and scenario.
But if fear is what does indeed underlie anger…then is it really that simple? Has anyone bothered to ask what lies beneath the FEAR?
Where does fear come from? I think that humans have been hard wired to have fear. Without fear, we would not survive many things in our primordial past. Fear is what kept our senses sharp. Fear is what made us know that danger lurked around every corner. After all, around that corner could be a sabre toothed tiger just waiting for its next meal. Primordial mankind knew that we are NOT at the top of the food chain…far from it. We are definitely food for some creatures of the earth, and the sooner we remember that, the better off we will be.
So if fear is something that helps us survive, would it not be reasonable to say that what is underneath fear is a very strong sense of self-preservation? When I talk about this, I want to make it perfectly clear that I am not talking about imagined fears. I am talking about real fears. So the “gay fear” defense that might fly in a court room will definitely not fly with me. You cannot say that you are legitimately afraid of something that has only happened in your head. But you can be legitimately afraid of impending doom.
Someone once thought that my dog, Freddy, was a bit of a “chicken” because at the sound of a very loud noise coming from the construction that was happening in front of our house, which could be heard very clearly in the back yard, he ran to the back door to get in to where he knew was a place of safety. That is not being a “chicken.” That is having a strong sense of self-preservation. That sound startled the heck out of me (and I don’t startle that easily) so of course Freddy would respond. I had the reasoning ability to know that the sound was not the forerunner of some catastrophic invasion. But as a puppy, Freddy did not know that. So his fear was completely warranted. For Freddy, his fear kicked in his survival instinct. Out of fight or flight, he chose flight because there was nothing visible to fight, just an extremely loud sound.
I remember once walking down a street, on the sidewalk, past where street construction was happening. There was a large digger scooping dirt out of a sizeable hole. Suddenly a worker’s head popped out of the hole and he yelled at the worker in the digger to “BACK UP! GAS LINE!” Then he jumped out of the hole and, frankly, everyone, myself included, ran like hell. Again, a strong sense of self-preservation kicked in. Fortunately there was not an explosion that day. But we all knew the possibility of an explosion was very real. We were all afraid. We were all running for our lives.
After the fear subsided a bit, I did find myself moving into anger. I was angry at myself for having taken that route in the first place. Then I was angry at the workers for not having done their homework and known that there was a gas line there. This anger did not last long. Accidents happen. But I have to admit, that underneath that anger was fear…and underneath the fear was a very strong sense of self-preservation.
So my point is that we can’t just buy into pop psychology and say flippant things like “fear is always under anger” and just leave it at that. We have to look deeper. What was the fear about? What was the perceived threat to one’s self? Was it real or imagined? Was there anything that could have been done better so that the angry person felt more in control? Are we ever in control, really? Can this person feel safe again? If so, how?
Safety. Security. These are what motivate a strong sense of self-preservation. If someone does not care about their own safety and security, then fear becomes something that is more elusive to them. People who have no fear often end up being injured needlessly or even dying early because they had no consciousness that something could harm or even kill them. That is different than being bold. Being bold, and even brave, is something that requires one to feel the fear and find a way to move through it in order to accomplish something. For example, I avoid heights because after a certain amount of feet off of the comfortable ground I find that I am having to struggle with fear like crazy. I am definitely not one of those who would walk across a suspension bridge above a canyon. Nope. Not happening. However, even with my strong sense of self-preservation in play, if one of my kids were in crisis on that bridge, you can bet your bottom dollar that I would be on that bridge helping them through the crisis. Once the crisis is averted, I would also likely have a complete internal melt down over having had to do that. But when it comes to my sense of self-preservation, the only thing that trumps it is my sense of protectiveness for those I love. That phrase, “I would take a bullet for them” is very real for me. I am sure that it is very real for many people. I also think that this is part of what makes us human, because, for me, what lies beneath humanity is the consciousness of being a part of the greater whole.
This is what leads us to doing humanitarian deeds. People who are run by greed will not understand that. In fact, if they do grasp the concept, they will try to use it to their advantage instead of adopting it as something that they could strive to achieve for themselves. But when we have an inner knowing that we are a part of a greater whole, we automatically know that for the good of the whole some sacrifices must be made. We don’t complain about it. We may not enjoy it, but we know that it is something that is for the greater whole, and, therefore, for the greater good. And as such, it is something that motivates us to do better and to be better. It is, quite possibly, what lies beneath what will one day be our salvation as a species.