a culture of fear

We live in a culture of fear. There are glimmers and bright spots, and people who defy the norm by believing more in their ability than their anxiety, but for the most part we live in a culture of fear. It’s in our parks, and our playgrounds, our friendship circles and our families, and very prevalently, it’s embedded in our businesses. I point to this because it’s in business that I believe we can move the needle. We carry the environment of our work life home to our families, and inevitably we offload this to our children, whether we do so consciously or not. Work also may be where some of our stronger feelings of fear began. The fight to the top—to make the most, to be the best, to play the game of cheaper, better, faster—required a baseline of fear. Except now, that baseline is so exacerbated that it has permeated most arenas of our life.

In work, we seek to sell a product or a service. Seeking to sell led us to marketing, where we looked outside ourselves to attract customers or clients. This, of course, drove us away from what pleased or excited us, and towards pleasing others. This is where our culture of fear begins. The opposite of fear—confidence, compassion, trust, and love—are rooted in self-awareness and self-understanding. So when the principles of work began asking us to look externally in order to get ahead, we started down a path of disconnection that we are only now beginning to see and question.

When we are seeking to please, or attract, others, we forget to think about ourselves, and whether or not we like what we have produced, created, crafted or sold. That’s where we go wrong. The first question should always be: Do I like it? Would I buy it? Do I need it? If you’re having trouble with the answer—if it’s not fairly instantaneous—take a pause and find that voice. Meditate, go outside, or do whatever it takes to hear that voice.

Without that voice, and without that compass, we revert to selling, to fear, to intimidation, to exclusion, and to scarcity. These sentiments heavily permeate our work cultures today. They permeate it to such a degree that we hesitate to disagree, to speak up in meetings, to communicate honestly because we are trying to abide by protocol or by norms. We find ourselves shrinking back from helping others because it’s not our job or it’s not our role, because they don’t understand, and we don’t have enough time or energy or patience to bring them along. Because they are on the other side, because they are not on our team, because they didn’t hire us. Because we are worried about our own liability, because we are worried about their volatility. The list could go on. But we are living primarily out of fear, and not out of love.

So how could we possibly begin to change this? To tackle a cultural phenomenon that is so deeply embedded in everything from our emotions to our economy? We start with re-framing our thoughts, re-framing our ideas, and re-framing our outlook. We focus on possibility and not the absence of it, we focus on giving more than we receive. Yes, more than.

Getting ahead is no longer about making money. It’s about espousing good values, it’s about pausing, it’s about civic duty, it’s about being a good neighbor. This is not mutually exclusive with good decision making, efficiency, or effective spending. But it does have more humanity; it does have more space. In this frame of mind there is more time, there is more release, there is more room. For everyone. My business does not need to compete against yours because if I’m following my path it cannot possibly look like or offer the same thing yours does, and it will naturally attract (by nature of being itself) those most interested in that particular way of being.

Staying true to oneself, whether personally or in business, whether individually or collectively, however, is not an easy task. It’s a very, very tough road, but one that we need to be game to start walking down. That should be our aim now, not comparing to the person beside us, or competing for market share. Look at yourself. Change that first.