With an iron fist in a velvet glove
We are sheltered under the gun

In the glory game on the power change
Thy Kingdom’s will be done
And the things that we fear
Are a weapon to be held against us
-Neil Peart, Rush

I just got home from vacation. My mom and my sister live on Amelia Island, Fla., so I not only spent some time with my family, but also got in some much needed beach time – an occasional necessity for this exiled Floridian.

Our visit to the Sunshine State also provided an opportunity for a little breakthrough for my 8-year-old nephew.  With my kids frolicking in the ocean, he had the impetus to spend some extended time in the water.

You might not find an 8-year-old playing in the waves particularly unusual. But you see; my nephew generally won’t linger in the ocean for any extended amount of time.


He’s afraid of sharks.

Mind you, he’s never actually seen a shark in the wild. He doesn’t know anybody who has ever experienced a shark attack. And the odds of a shark actually attacking?  One in 11.5 million, according to the University of Florida’s International Shark Attack File.

But my nephew remains petrified of sharks none-the-less. As a result, he generally scurries to the perceived safety of the beach after mere minutes in the water.

It’s sad that a little boy would miss out on all the fun of playing in the ocean because of fear. But in truth, American society plays out my nephew’s reaction to sharks on a larger scale every day.

Doubt me? Just go to the airport.

We allow federal agents to peek at our privates, grope us, dig through our luggage and take toys from our kids, all based on fear – fear of another 9-11 style terrorist attack.

Is that fear warranted?


I mean, realistically, my nephew’s fear of sharks isn’t completely irrational.  Sharks do live in the Atlantic Ocean. And sharks have attacked little boys.  So he does face a risk every time he sets foot in the water.

But does that risk warrant staying out of the water forever and always?

Surely not.

And watching the smile on his face as he romped in the waves with his cousins, unmolested by sharks, bore this out.

As I watched him playing, I thought about just how much fear dictates our society. We fear airplane hijacking, so we created the TSA. We fear global warming, so we advocate for draconian economic policies. We fear terrorists, so we hand over our rights as an act of “patriotism.” We fear “social breakdown” so we fight against same-sex relationships. We fear for our jobs, so we slap a tariff on some foreign good.  Name a fear, and you can probably spot the steely glint of some law or public policy lurking close behind.

Alexander Hamilton warned in Federalist No. 8 that fear would ultimately lead people to give up liberty.

Safety from external danger is the most powerful dictator of national conduct. Even the ardent love of liberty will, after a time, give way to its dictates. The violent destruction of life and property incident to war, the continual effort and alarm attendant on a state of continual danger, will compel nations the most attached to liberty to resort for repose and security to institutions which have a tendency to destroy their civil and political rights. To be more safe, they at length become willing to run the risk of being less free.

Politicians love fear. It leads people to willingly grant them more and more power.

And the things that we fear
Are a weapon to be held against us

As I watched my nephew splashing in the waves, as I heard the strains of his laughter, as I saw smiles lighting up the faces of all four kids, it struck me that in that moment, fear was the furthest thing from their minds. They were just living life.

Loving life.

As I sat with my feet buried in the sand, caught up in the moment, I couldn’t help but conclude, living in fear is stupid.

It steals our joy. It steals our freedom. And it steals our very  life.

I’m not going to let it.

There is a better way.

“There is no fear in love. But perfect love drives out fear, because fear has to do with punishment. The man who fears is not made perfect in love.”


Mike Maharrey

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