So, first of all, let me assert my firm belief that the only thing we have to fear is . . .
I’d better stop there. I wouldn’t want you to think that I’m trying to claim that line for myself. Not that I could. When Franklin D. Roosevelt uttered that iconic phrase on March 4, 1933 at his first inauguration, it immediately entered the shrine of the most famous American political speeches of all time.
Less known is that FDR paraphrased much of the pronouncement from Henry David Thoreau (1817-1862), an essayist and poet, who had profound influence on the likes of Mahatma Gandhi and Martin Luther King, Jr.
Roosevelt used his first inaugural speech to outline his ideas for bringing Americans out of the Great Depression, a plan which became known as the New Deal. The New Deal greatly expanded the federal government’s role in our economy.
The irony is that Thoreau would have hated the idea.
Thoreau was at the least a believer in minimal government, and at the most an anarchist –– a label that he never denied. In his 1849 essay “Civil Disobedience", Thoreau wrote: "I heartily accept the motto,—‘That government is best which governs least.’”
Then what is it about “fear” that inspires two inspirational leaders –– two influencers –– to assail the emotion from two totally disparate directions? I suppose that answer comes from the word itself.
Fear as Merriam-Webster understands it is “an unpleasant often strong emotion caused by anticipation or awareness of danger”. I like how Roosevelt lays it out better –– “. . . fear itself — nameless, unreasoning, unjustified terror which paralyzes needed efforts to convert retreat into advance.”
Fear holds us back –– sometimes paralyzes us as Roosevelt suggests –– and it does so, probably for good reason. We likely wouldn’t be here without it. We couldn’t have gotten away with saying “here kitty, kitty” to the saber-toothed tiger too many times before having second thoughts. We need the anticipation of fear.
Fear keeps us alive.
But it is important to be certain that fear confines us for the right reasons. Fear cloaks reality. We are not afraid of the dark; we are afraid of what is in it. We are not afraid to love; we are afraid of rejection. We are not afraid of falling; we are afraid of the sudden stop at the end.
Of Paul Ekman’s five emotions in his Atlas of Emotions –– anger, fear, disgust, enjoyment, sadness –– only fear requires a past. We have to have experienced something, to expect it. We have to anticipate an outcome happening again.
Last week, when I listened to President Biden’s Address before a Joint Session of Congress, and mentally counted the multi-trillion dollar price tag, I couldn’t help thinking that I’ve heard this all before. I guess that’s when I became afraid.
I’m afraid that we will rely on government, and no longer on each other.
Admittedly, I lean closer to Thoreau than Roosevelt. However, I feel each would agree that without fear we couldn’t have bravery.
And with that, we boldly move on.

John O. Marlowe is an award-winning columnist for Sagamore News Media