The Economics of Fear

Fear, seemingly, is a great motivator. This is a lesson that is espoused in one of the most watched movies on television in India today – The Dark Knight Rises (thanks in part to the constant reruns by WB, Movies NOW and MN+ HD). We learn from the movie that it is only when one has the fear of falling can one truly breakthrough and push limits, cue Bruce Wayne making the jump from one ledge to another, without the rope.

However, it is noteworthy that this is a perspective of fear purely from an individual standpoint. The effects, assuming they are positive, are powerful and can act as enablers of change, of empowerment. It is the collective fear that threatens to keep us resigned to our boundaries and accept the outcome, no matter how undesirable. When we fear as a unit, we collect the multitude of insecurities, doubts and regrets into one giant sad snowball which is then threatened to be rolled down a hill and into the abyss. As stated before, fear is not necessarily a bad thing but it is extremely important that we fear for the right reasons – a highly subjective issue.

If we examine two situations, perhaps this theory of collective fear will be clearer. A farmer with crippling loans who has endured the patchy monsoons and the false promises, who has no other support structure to rely on commits suicide. His fears of not being able to turnaround things, of not being able to feed his family and then be hounded by loan sharks finally consumes him. On the other hand, a fresh faced employee is brought into a strongly hierarchical culture and has difficulty coming to grips with this irrational fear of insubordination. There is no apparent fear of getting laid off, and of course, this person stands to lose a lot less than the farmer. But, there is a feeling that insubordination will significantly hamper her prospects within the organization. She is joined by others who have been conditioned into believing that committing mistakes and opportunism are to be treated as the same thing and consequently, the effect relays from one to the other, making that organization strictly top-down and rather rigid in its approach. The two differences that I perceive in the examples provided is that we don’t see more than one farmer taking their own lives at the exact same instant of time whereas the employee’s metaphorical demise is brought about by a collective fear of the seemingly unknown – the extent of power vested in the hands of a few. The farmer possibly fears for the right reasons whereas the employee is led into believing that things can only get worse without even trying to step on some toes or push any boundaries.

We are conditioned to emulate previous successful models. But like my brother says, when you’re cooking, always try to add some identity to the recipe that you follow, put your own twist to it. History may tend to repeat itself but success is a recipe that requires constant evolution. There are times when you stand to lose a lot and that collective fear of a group of persons must be respected. But that’s just it. Respect does not beget absolute acquiescence. Step on some toes if you can, see if might really is right. If you’re reading this then you are in a much better state than the farmers of India.. and that should dispel your individual fears and motivate you to rise above your peers.

———

A cheesier example:

Batman strikes fear into the hearts of a group of villains through which they are disoriented and don’t trust each other to respond well to his tactics. Drop the villain part and just think that through… I feel like I learn new things every time I watch those reruns đŸ™‚

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