Fear Is Not Rational

I liked Ben Martin’s writing about fear, and Jeff’s post about it being time to move on. They made simple and, I think, powerful arguments that the objections that are frequently raised about the risks of social media are quite easily managed.

But it reminds me of an important point that is at one level quite obvious, yet we tend to act as if we don’t notice it: fear is not rational. You can make all the rational arguments you want to explain why people should not be afraid, but even if they agree with all your arguments, they will likely continue to be afraid.

I have no magic pill that will help people feel less afraid. And yes, sometimes some rational knowledge or information can reduce levels of fear (it’s easier to fear the unknown). But for the most part, only they can deal with their fear (just as you must deal with your fear). This is part of emotional intelligence, which is primarily about YOU, not the other. It’s about recognizing your own emotional state and the impact it is having on your thinking and your behavior.

You want to get to the point where you are afraid, and someone makes a rational argument that makes sense to you, but you still feel afraid—and you notice all of that. Frankly, few of us have that kind of awareness. Instead, we have an intuitive sense that the other person is wrong, or we irrationally overvalue our own argument, or we change the subject…. Once you can actually see yourself being afraid, the rest becomes a bit clearer, the fear becomes less in control, and you can make smarter choices.


  1. 10.03.2008 at 9:55 pm

    J-Nott, good stuff! You’re right, we can’t compel people to drop their fears. One way to beat fear is to take small, safe steps towards your fear until ultimately you conquer it. Coincidentally, this iterative process is also a marvelous way to learn about social media.
    The post you mention was about my personal frustration with those who refuse to face their fears. I can’t explain away their fears. So I’ve decided to go on without them.

  2. 11.03.2008 at 8:48 am

    Excellent point, B-Mart, about the small steps for overcoming your own fear. And I agree with you about leaving people behind if they don’t want to get on the bus. As a consultant friend of mine once said, “I am not going to drag people kicking and screaming into the 21st century.”