Overcoming Fear: Going Beyond the Threshold

4608 3456 World Social Initiative Forum

Social Initiative Forum Project Leader Joan Sleigh highlights three questions emerging out of the COVID-19 pandemic and current events worldwide in this 4-part series. 

Text: Joan Sleigh [ZA] | Photo: Nicole Asis [PH]

© Nicole Asis [PH] | | 26 March 2020 | Basel CH

For a number of months, we have been living in the opacity of the COVID-19 pandemic – impenetrable in terms of its origin and unpredictable in the pending personal, economic, and social consequences. A changed future is both inevitable and necessary. 

In this situation, we are united worldwide. No one is spared.

This fact, frightening as it is, can also be a confirmation of the current cosmopolitan world we are living in. Each country has its specific infection rates and medical capacities, as well as economic challenges reflected in the different ways in which the lockdown regulations were enforced and are now gradually being relaxed. Many businesses, shops, public locations, and borders are still closed to ensure ‘social and spatial distancing’. The intention is to provide health care and crisis management, but the effects are multi-layered.

From the enjoyment of a ‘prescribed’ break to desperate loneliness, from enriching financial compensation to the starvation of thousands (as seen in developing countries), as well as any intermediate stages, the consequences multiply to an undefinable complexity. Everyone is searching for the cause and origin of the pandemic. Even the medical facts do not correspond. Thus, the uncertainty caused by the lack of a vaccine allows unlimited room for speculation and conspiracy theories. 

Through the inability to know the truth, everyone is worried about an uncertain future and a questionable past. We are forced to face ourselves in a time of pause and personal reflection. An unpredictable future – still non-existent and unthinkable – calls for action and engagement. Fear of one’s own powerlessness and the instrumentalization of central power calls everyone to wake up to the realities we have created. 

Martin Heidegger,  a German philosopher of the 20th century, speaks of fear as a revelation of the “Nothing”, thus an invitation to search for an unlimited possibility of creative self-design in the infinity of Nothingness. |1| 

Reflective of her life experience, Hannah Arendt says that “fear is indispensable for survival” and it awakens the challenge of having to deal with one’s own fear because it neither disappears by itself nor solves the cause of the anxiety. Rather, fear remains a faithful companion on the path to self-knowledge and world-knowledge. |2|

Karl König describes how we can perceive the abyss of Nothingness through the rather unconscious feeling of fear, without knowing what can be beyond this threshold. Fear, as a clearly perceptible emotion, opens the door and forces us to look into the abyss (the Nothingness) where life and death meet. |3|

There in the dark nothingness, it may give birth to a new undreamt-of life.

1 Cited from Karl König’s “Über die menschliche Seele”.

2 Hannah Arendt. 2018 ed. Die Freiheit, frei zu sein?. München.

3. Karl König. 2011 ed. Über die menschliche Seele. Stuttgart.

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