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Brugger: We are Targets of Fear Itself
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Brugger: We are Targets of Fear Itself

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Fear or dread. Furcht (gr.) Peur (fr.) Temere (It.) Miedo(sp.) Frykt(Nor.) It’s the most basic of human emotions and the underlying source of anger. Franklin Roosevelt famously said, “We have nothing to fear but fear itself.” as he rallied Americans during the Great Depression. He was, I think, making a point that fear will often prompt immobility as a response.

Remember hearing about the “flight or fight” response, which produces stress and all its physical harm? There is another less talked about response; “freeze in place.” The three responses are useful according to the threat, but only the fight response eliminates the threat.

One problem we have in the United States, even throughout the world, is that too many of us have an unconscious predisposition toward aggression when called upon to fight. Using alternate words to talk about fear and our possible responses can deescalate destructive anger. What if we consciously train our brains to think of fear as concern? What if we think of the possible responses as avoid, oppose, and pause to consider?

Does this sound like I am getting a bit geeky here? Thank our endless war in the Middle East. The Veteran’s administration has paid for an enormous amount of research into the brain because everyone exposed to any level of combat has a degree of brain injury. One of the most important outcomes of the research has been Brain Plasticity. The phrase means that we can literally change our minds. Starting with the notion that a physically injured brain can relearn how to function; it has also proven that victims of trauma can reframe their experience so that it no longer generates a negative response to a fearful memory.

The pause of the Idaho Legislative session in Boise is a cautionary tale about useless responses to the COVID-19. Ignoring public health experts has been justified with an admirable goal of not living in fear. Unfortunately, to the virus, it looks like the enemy has surrendered. The virus has been allowed to get stronger and more versatile in conquering the human body it needs to survive. We have become angry, but we have not successfully opposed.

Children learn to avoid germs that cause disease. We know that our bodies are capable of overcoming disease when given time and medicine. More recently, we have become aware that a variety of medicines are no longer effective against bacteria. Adding to this, we also now know that germs can be both bacteria and viruses. My formal education certainly did not include understanding of the behavior of a virus vs. a bacterium. I have had to learn that informally.

Scientists who have been working to oppose the newest type of Coronavirus are faced with a similar situation. They and we know we have an enemy, but our spies haven’t absolutely identified the extent of its threat. We can be fearful or concerned. We are forced to pause and consider what to do, but we must oppose the enemy with strategies that have worked in the past until we find more beneficial ones. We would all prefer to abandon wearing a mask and keeping a significant physical distance from other people. We are hopeful that our current vaccines will discourage the virus from infecting anyone in the future. Eliminating the threat is not yet possible, but we can become stronger in opposing it.

There is one final thought. The threat is a virus. It is not our neighbor, the government, or a conspiracy. We cannot see our enemy. We do not even understand the extent of the threat beyond a period of identifiable infection. In the past, people identified others as witches and blamed them for unexplained negative events. We must resist the temptation to identify a false target to attack while the real enemy takes advantage and advances undercover. Fear itself only raises the alarm. We must consider only the real danger.

Linda Brugger, retired from the Air Force, leaning Democrat and community activist can be reached at She welcomes feedback.


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