Fear Factor

On July 4, I wrote a blog post about fear-based culture. It’s an exhausting way to live, and it creates a circle of anger, resentment, control, and giving up.

Because I work with words, and words are an easy weapon, I looked around to find titles and situations in our popular culture that ignite the fuse on the anger circle. The words we use casually become part of our lives.

“War”  We now have a war on women, a war on religion, and yes, Craft Wars on TV.  It’s offensive to use the devastation of war to describe a disagreement and a competitive TV show. Remember when “awesome”  meant extremely impressive or daunting? Now it’s used as a filler word, used to mean “I heard what you just said.”  Soon “war” will be another shrug-off word. We’ll be mildly interested in the collateral damage, but it won’t shock us.

Every successful TV show spins off a competitive one, where one team has to demolish the other. The winning team gets to lord it over the losers. Apprentice, American Pickers (the competitive version), Cajun Justice, Fear Factor,  all the competitive cooking shows, all the race-from-one-place-to-another shows–it’s not just about winning, it’s about making the other team lose. The leftover resentment, anger, ridicule is now part of the American Dream. If you are on the winning side.

From the New York Times Hardcover Bestseller List: 50 Shades of Gray (a trilogy on sadomasochism), Wicked Business, Wild, Cowards, Killing Lincoln. Don’t forget the softcover selections: Explosive Eighteen, Afraid to Die, In the Garden of Beasts.

Best Selling Video Games:  Total War, Bioshock, Mortal Kombat.

Words are important. In the movie Iron LadyMargaret Thatcher ‘s attributed this wisdom to her father:

Watch your thoughts, for they become words.Watch your words, for they become actions. Watch your actions, for they become habits. Watch your habits, for they become your character. And watch your character, for it becomes your destiny. What we think, we become.

I know that violence is more interesting than compassion, drama has more frisson than contemplation, and reading about tragedy is more exciting that reading about self-awareness. It does us no good to avoid gluten if we are stuffing our minds with gore.

Do the hard thing and give up your anger, your control, and your threats. Fill your time with creativity. It soothes, heals, inspires and makes you feel like you have achieved something worthwhile. Because you have.

Quinn McDonald is a creativity coach who is giving up control, one day at a time.

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25 thoughts on “Fear Factor

  1. Quinn I cannot stop thinking about this so I’ve come late to comment. When that Iron Lady movie first came out that quote went around. I knew I’d heard it or something so similar before and searched…… it is credited mostly to Lao Tzu, Anonymous, Charles Reade and others. I believe Charles Reade from 1861 is likely the original source although his quote was in the language of that time period. I know it is a movie and fiction but now it becomes this phrase that Thatcher said instead of looked at as something the movie maker used to make a point about her.

    • The movie was “based” on fact, but I’m sure they put lots of words in Thatcher’s mouth. Maybe her father quoted Reade, maybe they made it up. If you dissect it, it likely isn’t true. (See Pete’s comment). But I like it, and I like the metaphor of progression that a small thing can grow into a big thing. And because words are the compas in my understanding the geography of my life, it seems meaningful to me.

  2. I agree with you about the need to use words and language with thought, and compassion, and awareness. The words we send out into the world make a difference.

    Unfortunately words – containing power – can also be used to disguise what is going on, and we need to better learn to see beyond words to deeds, actions, and consequences. I think that’s really what Margaret Thatcher is a good example of. The gap between words and actions. When she first came into power she said this:

    “Where there is discord, may we bring harmony. Where there is error, may we bring truth. Where there is doubt, may we bring faith. And where there is despair, may we bring hope.”

    Her legacy was the opposite, and her use of these words still strikes me as a horrible misuse of this gentle prayer.

    • Whoa–St. Francis (I think the prayer is attributed to him) is spinning in his grave. Yikes! Thatcher is going to wind up in the Chuck Colson circle of hell for doing that.

  3. By the way I am not trying to promote book,it was the first of its kind at the time but as I said looks very dated now….royalties were great at first but the last one was minus- 71 cents! Dunno how they worked that out! It was offered as first prize in a HELP THE AGED competition which I didn’t know to be flattered or not! It didn’t really reflect the work we did at the time as we were experts in our field all those years ago!x

  4. Thanks for your reply..it’s 5am..the odd hours wouldn’t bother me! Someone has lent me today a loverly set of little bird stamps,and someone else gave me a top,which I don’t like but is covered in little crystals I can take off and use! I never even left my house! Perhaps I can manage without the shops for a while longer! Any suggestions of websites for materials would be welcome. If you google me,I wrote a book about twelve years ago. ..art and craft based…looks pretty dated now…..so you will understand my obsession with art and graphic supplies and my withdrawal after ten years here! I think it’s still on amazon as got a letter recently to say making into an ebook? I am going to ask for your one for Christmas! I fear for the future in my relationship at the moment but will be brave in its adversity,we must not forget our gut instinct and intuition,which if we trust and follow makes us live our truth,not hide behind fear which can eat you up if you don’t face it. Wishing you a weekend of truth and no fear .x

    • For art supplies, I’d go to Dick Blick, which is in Los Angeles, and Daniel Smith, which is in Washington state. Neither of those is convenient to you, but maybe some of the other European and UK readers will have ideas for you. I’ll have to check out your book. Trust your gut, it never lies to you.

  5. I see the fear everywhere and a lot of anger and distrust and apathy. I do think the power of words is partly to blame. I also believe that because words are so powerful, those that have the ability to reach the masses (the media) should use their words for good and not evil. If you look at headlines and listen to newscasts, you can notice how they use words to manipulate. It often irritates me that they don’t use those words to create a more positive environment, when they have the power to do so. That being said, we are all responsible for our own way in the world and our own actions and language. We can choose our own responses as well.

    • Words are far more powerful than we know. The whole “words will never hurt me” is a crock. Words can change so much in such a short time. And yes, it’s our responses that set the stage.

  6. Quinn – Well Done!!!! how i hate when words i love to use become just common and lose their “value” – awesome to me is something that takes my breath away – and when i use it that’s what i’m trying to impart to others – unfortunately that’s not what they receive because of how the word has come to seen as you say “filler”. just like “interesting” – when i say that about something i’m saying wow food for thought – not just i heard you and don’t want to talk further about this subject – which is how i feel sometimes when others use it. Fear is the what i consider to be the opposite of “love” – if love even has an opposite – and of course “love” is my word for this year – so when you have a sense of dread or fear come you way – send it loving thoughts and energy (if you believe in the power of energy) and see how it transforms.

    Pete – think you missed her point – that we can only control ourselves – our thoughts – our actions – trying to control the remainder of the world either by actions or words is not the path to a better society – so think you are saying the same thing – just using different words! give up control of others, i.e. the world; and take control of ourselves and our thoughts.

    • Well I dunno, how did I miss the point if you think we agree? Or if words are the root causes of things, how can using completely opposite words agree?

      I think Thatcher, or possibly her father, had it exactly wrong, by the way. Words do not lead to thoughts, and thoughts to actions. That’s just a manipulative, sekf-serving story villains like Thatcher and her ilk tell. For most people, what they do determines what they think, and they justify it to themselves using words.

  7. It seems to me the way to get rid of frustration, anger, and fear is not by giving up control but by having more control. Everything you mention has to do with being urged to action by news, by sales pitches, by games on video in both senses.

    Language changes. “Awful” did not always mean “bad”, and “Google” did not until recently mean anything. But now we have Google, and it’s among the culprits in constantly urging us to action. We’re urged to action by the introduction of anxiety, and sometimes that anxiety has no outlet. “You there, start worrying about the condition of the derivative markets,” or “Hey, every time you drink coffee it’s bad for you. Er, I mean good for you. Er, no, probably bad.”

    We are, probably unfortunately, eusocial organisms, and we’re built to attend to messages. We pay attention when we’re urged. We do our best to comply. To worry about things we’re told about the world, about ourselves, about our needs. We can do nothing directly about most of this, and it makes us anxious. The anxiety comes out in anger, fear, and frustration.

    So take control, don’t abandon it. But take care what you control. Your attention is the most important thing, and all else will follow.

    • I had to look up “eusocial” and I think you are going to get in trouble for using it. When I use the word “control” I mean less of yourself, and the vain attempt we make at controlling traffic, the weather, other people–on a personal level. Micro-managers and control freaks (of which, I believe Margaret Thatcher to be one) can bring down a whole group of people. Personal control is another matter entirely. And I did not make that distinction, and should have. I do agree that attention is important to control, and I’ve often said that knowledge isn’t power, attention is. But I do think words, even thought words, is where it begins. I’m a writer, so I would think that way.

      • Hey, I steal from the best; E.O.Wilson uses ‘eusocial’ in describing collective human activity in The Social Conquest of Earth.

        But really, I think behavior precedes thought, which precedes words. We FEEL it works the other way, but that’s because the signals and processing required for our brains to find out what’s going on and make sense of it mean that our thoughts always take place in the past. Besides, the brain has a flipping enormous ego and hates the idea that it might not be the boss. 🙂

        • Hm, I’ll have to think about that and create words and then come over and scribble on your computer screen.I may not think like other people, because words are so much a part of me, that I often dream in the dark, with the spoken word, or a book narrating the dream. Thoughts take place in the past–well I can sort of grab the edge of that, but not quite.

          • A flash of light occurs because somebody’s taking a photo near you.
            Your eyes’ photoreceptors change as a result of the flash.
            The change is communicated electrochemically (probably) to a series of parts of your nervous system, which “classify” it.
            By the time the now highly processed, very-much-altered signal gets to the “thinking” part of your brain and you register “somebody’s taking a photo”, the flash has been over for a while and the photo is done.

            Thoughts take place in the past.

            Another way to look at it: what we see in the night sky is the past; the way those stars were hundreds, thousands, or millions of years ago, depending on how far away they are. We are personally like that too; peering out at a universe from the bottom of a well of time.

        • I think there there are both circumstances 1 when thought controls behavior and 2 when behavior controls thought or non-thinking. Malcolm Gladwell in one of his books (maybe What the dog saw) explains how fear shuts down thinking and we react from what he calls the reptilian brain without rational thinking just instinct. He also explains how repeated exposure to the stressors can change that and allow us to think first and and use other knowledge to guide our behavior. He especially applies this to police situations and training. Gladwell’s books are some of the most thought provoking reading I’ve ever run into. The strange questions he thinks up and discovers the answers to are mind-bending. On another bent, the police in our local area are watching too much TV. They have recently turned out a SWAT training in our local highschool complete with pictures in the media to show they are “up to speed” with new age response, and turned out 6 cars full with lights, battle gear etc. responding to a domestic situation on a quiet street of a “city” of maybe 8000. Granted the man had a gun but I can’t imagine that it made the situation a whole lot safer with that kind of police action.
          And as for inflammatory words have you noticed that it is always same-sex marriage not same gender marriage? That people will say “I’d kill for one of those whatevers.” A friend of mine has a habit of responding to fairly harsh criticism with the comment ” there could be some truth to that’. It is interesting to see the complainers reaction. They are expecting an argument and are flummoxed when it doesn’t happen.
          I find I am happier tuning into creative or positive on-line blogs or public television positive shows than watching “normal” TV. I have been unable to make fearmongering fun or entertaining.

          • That SWAT approach is a perfect example of fear. Send in a zillion flak-jacketed men with machine guns to solve. . . .what, exactly, in a school? All that does is glorify violence. OK, a guy with a gun could kill his wife, but it seems to me, again, that a SWAT team is well, overkill. Maybe literally. I love the comment your friend makes as a reply to criticism.

  8. Words are magic. It’s not wonder that many belief systems consider names especially powerful tools. That’s what the Iron Lady also means: words can make the imagined a reality.

    The first Christmas present my hubby bought me was ‘Never Give In! The Best of Winston Churchill’s Speeches.’ Now there was a man who knew the power of words! Listening the contemporary European politicians talk about the financial crisis makes it clear how poorly skilled they are rhetorically. Repeating the words like crisis, danger and catastrophe does not inspire the people to commit. Quite the contrary. Just like you said, the often repeated word will wear down and loose their meaning. Don’t cry wolf and all that, you know.

    I suspect that the contemporary culture does not appreciate words as much as we should or as we used to. Today words are just one more commodity there to be consumed. I am sad every time I hear someone dismiss the importance of literature, writing (both as a skill of using words and actual skill of using a pen) in our education and everyday life. Psychology has recognised the word’s power. A well versed (sic.) person is a more independent thinker. There’s a little point in trying to teach media criticism to kids at school if they can’t sense the difference in the nuances of meaning between ‘large’ and ‘big’.

  9. I have been reading your blogs for a few months now and love them. I live in Spain but am English. Everyday something in your words resonates with me, almost like I needed to read that days subject at a particular time . Without sounding like a victim..because I won’t be one…..I have had a dreadful year,but have started art journaling..be it only a small start and I think it’s helping. You seem wise and I feel on a parallel a lot of the time with the posts you have put up. I live in a remote place and long to do art workshops with like minded people,meet new people and get inspiration. I have day dreams that one day I get some money together and just come and hang out with you for a week and do art and journaling and creative writing!! I can start here, you inspire me,I am going to try and start a blog soon so I can join in with you all. What I am trying to say,is well done for getting up everyday and just doing it,it’s worth it,you can change people’s life with that extra bit of effort.you are obviously successful with your book,courses and writing,and it’s obvious you love what you do. So a simple thankyou for sharing all of that. Have wanted to comment before but I think today is the right day.! Don’t worry,I am not a nutter! I live in the mountains with four alpacas ,seven cats,two young children and a husband that’s driving me barmy,I used to be a city girl,I can barely buy a pencil here and long for a wonderful stationary shop! But we make the most of what we have! My best friend died of cancer the same week you fathering in law did. There is much to be grateful for,including your blog. Have a great day.x

    • More people come to journaling in the middle of their horrible years than you would imagine. Most of us on this blog have had horrible weeks, months, years, more than one year. So you are in good company. Thank for for allowing me to inspire you. I’d invite you to one of my classes anytime, but you would not want to live with me for a week. I’m a workaholic, and my only saving grace is that I pry open time for art journaling–but it’s often at odd times of day–5 a.m. say, or midnight. It’s less peaceful in the office or studio than you may think, but I’ve come to accept that as my life, and you sound like you are well accustomed to that. I do hope to meet you and find out exactly how you wound up in a remote area of Spain with four alpacas, seven cats, two young children and a husband.

  10. Much as I have always loathed Margaret Thatcher for the destruction she wrought when in power, I must say that is a very fabulous quotation from her, or perhaps from her father. It brings the circle right back round to the idea that you create your own destiny, but not so much by what you do, or rather by what you do obly as a side product of what you think.
    Fear does seem to be endemic in the ( our) world, and I notice in myself that fear breeds mistrust and separation.
    I also have been aware of my own residual anger, and how it colours my outlook on the world. And when I stop to see and capture my world, the anger somehow dissolves.

    • I was no friend of Margaret Thatcher’s policies, and I know movies have an agenda, as they are fiction, or at least fictionalized. I did, however, admire her for being a woman in a man’s world and being damned tough. And I do believe that some people act first and think later, but in general, I think people plot out behavior, and I deeply believe that what the think creates our reality.

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