A couple years ago some friends and I were arguing about something political. I guess the discussed topic had come to be about the climate of fear in the American government. At one point, someone said something I found very powerful and that has stuck with me ever since. They said "There are only two emotions in life; love and fear." I'm not so sure why it struck me as being so true in that moment, but I've ended up giving it a lot of thought and couldn't be more convinced it's true.
I already hear people thinking "wait, but there's rage, and sadness, and shame" and so on. And I'm not denying the validity of those emotions. I just found to believe that they are all either a varying degree of love or fear, or a varying intensity of both of them mixed together.
Let me explain; one is positive, the other is negative. One fosters connection by representing affection, interest and pleasure. The other incites detachment by incarnating threats of danger, pain or harm. They both exist on an overlapping scale. I believe we can place the whole range of human emotion on that scale. Here are some examples.
Disdain is a certain low-level of fear; we're not frightened or anything, but we don't like something enough as to want to keep it at a distance. Anger is a bodily fight-or-flight reaction to perceived threats, powered by fear. Jealousy is loving something so much that we start fearing that something will take it from us.
Regret and remorse are also intricate blends of fear and love. The former is about fearing to have missed out on something or someone we might have loved. The latter is about fearing that we have once loved an idea so much as to pursue an action that has shown to be detrimental to someone or something we love.
Other types of feelings fit into this rule as well. For example, anxiety is mostly fear-based but includes a great deal of love. It's usually about fearing potential threats concerning something or someone we love. It's that tension between fear and love that makes it so unbearable.
Many other social phenomena can also be tied back to this simple basis. What is racism but a learnt fear of the unknown? What is feminism but a fight for all to be loved equally?
We could come up with so many examples, but my point is that emotions are a complex system we need to navigate every day. When I realized everything I'm feeling can be brought back to either love, fear or an uncomfortable tension between them, I've found it immensely helpful to work with my emotions and consciously move back to love when fear is taking over. It helps me identify the true reasons behind my reactions to events. It allows me further define what I fear and what I love and that's a good place to start working on yourself.
Of course things aren't always black or white. I might be oversimplifying things by acknowledging emotions on such a binary framework. But from my personal experience of analyzing my feelings and observing the reactions of people around me or even larger scale social movements, I've been able to draw things back —I'll admit, sometimes in a bit of a far-fetched or abstracted way— to either a source of love or fear. It has made me develop more empathy and a greater awareness that people's emotions are influenced by their unique stories and emotional baggage.
Now with what's happening these days with the pandemic, the polarized political climate and our threatened freedom of speech, it's hard to see where there's any love left. We've come to a point where we're afraid of our neighbours not following safety measures, we worry about the state of the job market, we refrain from publicly sharing our questioning of this whole ordeal by fear of it being interpreted as conspiracy theory. Seeds of fear are being planted everywhere and it continues to divide us every day.
In this climate, it is our individual job to notice and resist the fear and cultivate love in any shape or form.
One way to start is by paying attention when fearful feelings take you over; are they occurring based on how you usually react? Or does this fear come up because the news taught you to worry about this specific situation? Be intentional with how you engage on social media; are you propagating a message of fear? Let's all instead try to foster love. From small acts of kindness, to spreading positive messages in your networks, to simply focusing on that which brings you joy, that is what we can do to let love win.