We Fear the Known, Not Uncertainty

fear of the unknown

So many of us think the source of fear is uncertainty. After all, there are so many unknowns in life.

But before you address your fear, you want to know why you have fear before you find a solution.

Most of us assume that uncertainty is the cause of fear. So what do we do? We try to remove uncertainty by…

  • Getting every insurance policy possible
  • Obtaining degrees we think can give us better jobs
  • Working jobs that are supposed to look good on our resumes
  • Networking with people we think we need to survive

What a waste of energy!

We are doing the wrong things while the answer is right in front of us. One of the most fascinating thinkers of the 20th century is Jiddu Krishnamurti. He didn’t subscribe to a particular philosophical movement, but his ideas were close to Buddhism.

One of my favorite books by him is Freedom from the Known. In that book, which is based on the many talks he gave in his lifetime, he talks about how most people don’t know where their fear comes from. Krishnamurti often said:

“One is never afraid of the unknown; one is afraid of the known coming to an end.”

How can you really fear something you don’t know? The problem is that we think we know. And that’s true. Because you can definitely be afraid of what you think you know.

Endings are inevitable

Back in the early 70s, music artists made plenty of money through vinyl sales. It was followed by cassette tapes. Then the compact disks (CDs) came in and music sales peaked for a good 21 years. Record labels and artists earned a lot as their albums sold in the millions.

Then the internet changed everything: Music piracy, file-sharing sites, and later streaming platforms like Spotify or Apple Music made CDs, and the very concept of buying music almost obsolete. It was the end of an era.

Years later, in an interview, the songwriter Lily Allen admitted that one of her popular songs, which was even used in a commercial, barely earned her anything.

“Everyone assumes I made millions from the John Lewis ad. I probably made £8k,” Allen said. She added that musicians nowadays earn most of their money by turning up at awards ceremonies and product launches, rather than by making actual music.

“Now that people don’t buy music we have to find other revenues,” she concluded.

Imagine you’re a musician and within a few years, your earnings from physical album sales almost disappear. You’re forced to adapt whether you like it or not. But you can only do that if you can quickly accept the end of something.

Be free from fear. Embrace endings

In our modern and connected world, we think we have the answers to everything. Remember when the Covid outbreak started? It was fascinating to see how many things no one knew at the time.

A simple question like, “How is the virus transmitted?” caused so much debate that everyone got confused. There was no single answer.

It’s the same when it comes to self-knowledge. We’re such complex beings that it’s impossible to fully know everything about ourselves.

One of the biggest sources of fear in the 21st century is what Krishnamurti called “the fear from the known.” We fear that the things we’re attached to will come to an end. Think about the following.

  • Health: We fear that our good health ends and never comes back
  • Career: We fear we can no longer be useful in the workforce
  • Relationships: We fear our partners or friends will move on without us
  • Society: We fear societal rules will change and we no longer feel at home

This is why there’s so much pain in the world. We’re afraid that everything we know will end. We cling to everything so hard that our hands become numb.

So what’s the solution? How do you get over that type of fear? Embrace endings.

Don’t be sorry if things end. The truth is that nothing ever stays the same. As you’re reading this, you’re dying. The cells in your body are breaking down. And in enough time, you will no longer be here.

The same is true for everything else in life. People, society, values, rules, ideologies, ideas, theories, planets. Everything ends. It’s just a matter of time.

Why fear something you know will happen?

“I don’t want it to happen!”

No one wants it. But by understanding reality and where your fear comes from, you no longer will experience fear.

If you begin to understand what you are and what makes you afraid, you don’t need more courage because you will feel secure in the midst of decay. You will have true equilibrium.

Liberating, isn’t it?

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