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Fear Some

Jim Wasserman, 2:04 pm ET

FEAR GETS A BAD RAP. From the old No Fear apparel line to mantras such as “only bad decisions come from fear,” our society seems to say that fear is always the creator of regrettable decisions.

I disagree. I think we need to distinguish between irrational and rational fear. Irrational fear is worrying that all strangers are a threat or believing that stepping out of your comfort zone is too fraught with peril to make it worthwhile.

By contrast, rational fear is what made the caveman long ago think twice about petting the sleeping tiger. Fear led to parachutes. In finance, a healthy amount of fear keeps people from betting the house on the latest get-rich-quick scheme. Fear of losing their never-failing stream of paychecks can motivate people to have savings, just in case.

We give such decisions other names: caution, trepidation, appreciation of risk. But it still comes down to that shiver invoked by a “what if” scary thought.

Rational fear keeps us from rushing in like fools. Thoughtful consideration is preferable if you have time, but fear can throw up the caution flag faster. Honestly, when you see the cop with a radar gun, do you consider the dangers of speeding and reflect on your duty as a member of the community to obey rules? Or is it your fear of a fine and insurance points that sends your foot crashing on the brake?

We don’t like acknowledging fear because it signals that we don’t have complete control over our destiny and that there are outside forces perhaps too big to overcome by just staring them down. After the past year and a half, and the prolonged effects of people not heeding health warnings, my fear—rational, I’d argue—is that not enough people have learned the value of rational fear.

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Mr Moderate
Mr Moderate
2 months ago

Well-said! “Rational fear!” I am better able to wrap my head around risk now. I especially like the radar gun example, of which I am occasionally guilty. I think it’s time to pare a bit back more our stock percentage and add more fixed income. Just in case…

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