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There are two basic motivating forces: fear and love. When we are afraid, we pull back from life. When we are in love, we open to all that life has to offer with passion, excitement, and acceptance… Evolution and all hopes for a better world rest in the fearlessness and open-hearted vision of people who embrace life. – John Lennon
Within a system which denies the existence of basic human rights, fear tends to be the order of the day. Fear of imprisonment, fear of torture, fear of death, fear of losing friends, family, property or means of livelihood, fear of poverty, fear of isolation, fear of failure. A most insidious form of fear is that which masquerades as common sense or even wisdom, condemning as foolish, reckless, insignificant or futile the small, daily acts of courage which help to preserve man’s self-respect and inherent human dignity. It is not easy for a people conditioned by fear under the iron rule of the principle that might is right to free themselves from the enervating miasma of fear. Yet even under the most crushing state machinery courage rises up again and again, for fear is not the natural state of civilized man. – Aung San Suu Kyi
How powerful the spirit of man, while his body is so weak! If the susceptibilities of the spirit control him, there is no created being more heroic, more undaunted than man; but if physical forces dominate, you cannot find a more cowardly or fearful object because the body is so weak and incapable. Therefore, it is divinely intended that the spiritual susceptibilities of man should gain precedence and overrule his physical forces. In this way he becomes fitted to dominate the human world by his nobility and stand forth fearless and free, endowed with the attributes of eternal life. – Abdu’l-Baha, The Promulgation of Universal Peace, p. 264.
Most things in this world come in pairs. Sun and moon, land and sea, male and female, day and night, valley and mountain, hot and cold, etc., etc.
All of the fundamental human qualities of character exhibit this kind of sharp dichotomy, too. Hegel called it the “law of opposites:” love and hate, compassion and cruelty, altruism and selfishness, pride and humility, etc. That’s how we know the reality of anything—by comparing it to its opposite at the other end of the scale. Without shiny, for example, we couldn’t understand dull. Without wealth, we would have no way to comprehend poverty:
Among the proofs of the existence of a divine power is this: that things are often known by their opposites. Were it not for darkness, light could not be sensed. Were it not for death, life could not be known. If ignorance did not exist, knowledge would not be a reality. It is necessary that each should exist in order that the other should have reality. Night and day must be in order that each may be distinguished. Night itself is an indication and evidence of day which follows, and day itself indicates the coming night. Unless night were a reality, there could not be day. Were it not for death, there could be no life. Things are known by their opposites. – Abdu’l-Baha, The Promulgation of Universal Peace, pp. 82-83.
So what’s the opposite of fear? Most people would probably answer: “Courage.” That’s certainly true, but I’d like to challenge you to think of another opposite to fear: love.
Fear and hatred go together. People tend to fear what they hate. In the same way, courage and love represent two sides of the same coin. So it stands to reason that ridding ourselves of our fears can also help us transmute the darkness of hatred into the light of love:
Think ye at all times of rendering some service to every member of the human race. Pay ye no heed to aversion and rejection, to disdain, hostility, injustice: act ye in the opposite way. Be ye sincerely kind, not in appearance only. Let each one of God’s loved ones centre his attention on this: to be the Lord’s mercy to man; to be the Lord’s grace. Let him do some good to every person whose path he crosseth, and be of some benefit to him. Let him improve the character of each and all, and reorient the minds of men. In this way, the light of divine guidance will shine forth, and the blessings of God will cradle all mankind: for love is light, no matter in what abode it dwelleth; and hate is darkness, no matter where it may make its nest. O friends of God! That the hidden Mystery may stand revealed, and the secret essence of all things may be disclosed, strive ye to banish that darkness for ever and ever. – Abdu’l-Baha, Selections from the Writings of Abdu’l-Baha, p. 3.
Most people would like to be free of their fears. Our fears can stop our progress and development, hold us back from growing. We fear getting hurt in our relationships, we fear failing, we fear crime and terrorism, we fear being burdened with more responsibilities, we fear all sorts of unpleasant problems in the world, we fear change and we fear death. We spend our energies trying to protect ourselves, trying to wall off our fears, but they keep coming back.
Instead of that dark, fearful approach to life, the Baha’i teachings recommend a loving approach:
O peoples of the world! The Sun of Truth hath risen to illumine the whole earth, and to spiritualize the community of man. Laudable are the results and the fruits thereof, abundant the holy evidences deriving from this grace. This is mercy unalloyed and purest bounty; it is light for the world and all its peoples; it is harmony and fellowship, and love and solidarity; indeed it is compassion and unity, and the end of foreignness; it is the being at one, in complete dignity and freedom, with all on earth. – Ibid., p. 1.
Transforming our fears into love takes patience and effort, but it pays enormous dividends. When we build spiritual connections and bonds by extending love to others—especially those we’ve previously feared—it opens up the channels that make love universal:
I beg of God to strengthen these spiritual bonds as day followeth day, and make this mystic oneness to shine ever more brightly, until at last all shall be as troops marshalled together beneath the banner of the Covenant within the sheltering shade of the Word of God; that they may strive with all their might until universal fellowship, close and warm, and unalloyed love, and spiritual relationships, will connect all the hearts in the world. Then will all humankind, because of this fresh and dazzling bounty, be gathered in a single homeland. Then will conflict and dissension vanish from the face of the earth, then will mankind be cradled in love for the beauty of the All-Glorious. Discord will change to accord, dissension to unison. The roots of malevolence will be torn out, the basis of aggression destroyed. The bright rays of union will obliterate the darkness of limitations, and the splendours of heaven will make the human heart to be even as a mine veined richly with the love of God. – Ibid., pp. 19-20.
Next: How Should I Look Forward to Death?