The One Fear That Can Kill You

Posted on July 17, 2018 by Robert Ringer


The phony fear-mongering that has gripped the country since the election of the evil Donald Trump is a reminder to keep your head while those around you are losing theirs.  There’s no question that life is fraught with dangers, but most are grossly overplayed.

Take flying, for example.  A large percentage of the population fears getting on an airplane, but statistics belie those fears.  In fact, I can almost guarantee you that you will not die in a commercial plane crash.  Trust me, I’m not omniscient.  My guarantee is based on facts — data that tell me that your odds of dying in a commercial plane crash are about one in 11 million.

My gosh, your odds of being killed by a shark are one in 3.7 million!  And your odds of being killed in a car crash are one in 5,000.  Some in the airline industry even claim that you are more likely to die in an airport than on a flight.

So, yes, I can say with certainty that you will not die in a plane crash.  I can also say with certainty that you will not become a billionaire.  And I can say with certainty that you will not win the lottery.  Sure, all these things happen to someone, but I’m willing to bet they won’t happen to you.  It’s all a matter of odds.

On the other hand, I won’t bet against your dying in an automobile accident.  Nor will I bet against your becoming a millionaire.  And I also won’t bet against your occasionally winning a lot of money in Las Vegas (though I will bet that you’ll end up losing over the long term).  Again, it’s a matter of odds.

That said, fear is a perfectly normal and necessary emotion for survival.  Rational fears can keep you alive by motivating you to act with prudence, but irrational fears can destroy your life.  If I know a fear is rational, I do what I can to swing the odds in my favor and proceed with caution.  Caution is not fear; it’s prudence.  But if I know a fear is irrational, I am purposely defiant, because I don’t want it to wield any power over me.

As an example, I have never hesitated to fly on Friday the 13th.  To fear being airborne on that “bad luck” day would be irrational, because aviation records covering more than sixty years of commercial flight reveal that there have been no more fatal airline crashes on Friday the 13th than on any other day.

An even better example, and one in which I admit to having been a tad uneasy, occurred on the tenth anniversary (December 3rd) of my survival of a Learjet crash, a crash in which the plane was totaled.  I was scheduled to fly from Los Angeles to New York, and there was a lot of talk in the news about how strong the winds were going to be in New York the next day, December 3rd, which is when I would be arriving.

I could have postponed my flight for a day or so in the hopes that the winds would die down, but I purposely did not.  You can be certain that it had nothing to do with bravery.  I just didn’t want a fear of flying in bad weather on an ominous anniversary date to have the power to dictate my schedule.  The rational side of my brain knew that the odds were astronomically in my favor, especially because I had already been in a plane crash on that very date ten years earlier.

Even so, once the plane began approaching the New York area, it was like being on an ocean liner being tossed about by gale-force winds.  But guess what?  My plane did not crash, nor did any of the other hundreds of airliners that flew into LaGuardia, JFK, and Newark that evening.

Which brings me to two schools of thought that are diametrically opposed.  One is that “you can’t live in a glass bubble,” what will be will be, so a devil-may–care attitude is the most practical way to live your life.  This attitude is prevalent among teenagers, who talk and act as though they are absolutely convinced of their immortality.

I speak from firsthand experience, because looking back on my youth I am convinced that I was illegally insane.  (Yes, that’s worse than being legally insane.)  I can count at least a dozen situations I got myself into that nearly resulted in my death, but, through the grace of God, I’m still here.

Much to everyone’s surprise, however, over time I actually grew up.  And, as an adult, I long ago concluded that one of the most important rules of life is that moderation is almost always the best policy.  By moderation, I mean living life to the fullest, but being sensible about staying away from situations where the odds in favor of something very bad happening are higher than I’m willing to accept.

With adulthood, I also learned something else even more important, and I learned it through firsthand experience.  Earlier, I said that irrational fears can destroy your life.  More than physical harm, what I had in mind was the fear of not being accepted — i.e., a preoccupation with status.

Such a preoccupation is not likely to kill you; it will kill you — emotionally and psychologically.  And it’s likely to be a slow and painful death, because if you harbor a fear of not being approved by others, you will be motivated to take actions that will destroy your self-respect and dignity.  And when you lose your self-respect and dignity, you become a full-fledged member of the walking dead.

An irrational fear like worrying about being on a doomed airliner is not all that hard to overcome.  All you need do is look up the statistics and it’s easy to conclude that it’s not worth fretting about.

A much bigger challenge, however, is overcoming the irrational fear of losing ground in the status derby that the late Tom Wolfe wrote about so eloquently.  As I said, such a fear is guaranteed to kill you — emotionally and psychologically — so if you insist on clinging to it, you do so at your own peril.

In fact, it is likely to yield the exact opposite of the results you’re after.  A much better idea is to make a commitment to always be true to yourself, especially in this day and age of political intimidation and shaming.

Perhaps the best antidote to unwarranted worriment is to heed the words of Ralph Waldo Emerson, who said, “Nothing is at last sacred but the integrity of your own mind.”  I wish I had come up with those words.

Robert Ringer

Robert Ringer is an American icon whose unique insights into life have helped millions of readers worldwide. He is also the author of two New York Times #1 bestselling books, both of which have been listed by The New York Times among the 15 best-selling motivational books of all time.

24 responses to “The One Fear That Can Kill You”

  1. Charles N. Steele says:

    Equanimity — when I was a graduate student, my 92 year old landlord, an old rancher who was tough as nails — taught me that word. He said retaining one's equanimity at all times, no matter what was going on, is the key to a successful life. I think this really sums up what the Stoic philosophers, especially Epictetus, taught. I paid attention and have practiced it.

    Given how so many people around me seem to be on the verge of hysteria these days, and how calm I am, I think my landlord gave me one of the best lessons I've ever had.

    • Val Vassay says:

      Equanimity – seems like a great idea. I'm going to start practising it. Thanks for telling us about it.

  2. GoodGarry says:

    Pretty interesting, thank you!

  3. Rock Roach says:

    I guess my new philosophy is just assume the opposite to whatever John McCain says or does.If he said something is good for America(Obamacare) or something is disgraceful(Trump's visit to see Putin in Finland) ,I know that this rino is full of bull.My biggest question to Arizonians is If you wanted Mccain's philosophy why not just vote for the democrat?And if you were a true republican,how did you nominate this guy for 30 years?

  4. kauai_mike says:

    Trust your gut – Mother Nature knows best!

  5. Ivan says:

    The one real fear that can kill you is Hillary or BHO surfacing. Hopefully the odds are that it won't happen.

  6. Peter says:

    Are you talking about Trump's fear of not being accepted and approved by Putin?

  7. Scott Theczech says:

    Risk management; there is a direct correlation between risk and reward. Consider this: the greater the risk, the greater the potential reward, conversely, the greater the risk, the greater the chance of failure. The lower the risk, the lower expected reward, conversely, the lower the risk, the less the chance of failure. So, when you buy that lottery ticket for which you only spent a buck or two (very low risk), the likliehood of a big reward is very, very small indeed. When you “dollar-cost-average” into that 75 year-old mutual fund with a long track record of success, the likliehood failure is greatly diminished.

    By the way, the odds of winning the lottery are about the same whether one ticket or a million tickets are sold. The odds are a calculus of those particular numbers being drawn.

  8. Jim Hallett says:

    The biggest problem with most of the fear we entertain, is that it is very counter-productive since our worst fears rarely materialize. Our minds go into overdrive creating the worst-case-scenario for just about everything, and then nothing bad comes of it. We cannot remember what we worried about last month or last year or 10 years ago, but at the time, it seemed like a big deal. Robert is right that worrying about status or other people's opinions about us is a devastating habit that will keep us unhappy most of the time. Your experience with the plane reminded me of a somewhat similar incidence in that the first Saturday of May, 2 years in a row, I was involved (as a passenger) in a car accident, the first of which someone in another car died. I purposely decided on that 3rd year to drive a car so as to prove, it was not some unlucky omen following me. I drove to a prom, and all was without incident, but let's say I was a little guarded in my driving behavior that night.

  9. Bruce J Fraser says:

    Remember the words of FDR, " WE HAVE NOTHING TO FEAR BUT FEAR ITSELF". The mind does play tricks on you with fear sometimes being a motivational factor. But the funny thing about fear is that your perceived fear factor usually does not add up when all is said and done. So journey ahead and push aside fear mongering and live life without getting spooked and the one fear to face is your health. Take care of your body and mind.
    Thanks Robert for the insightful thoughts.

  10. Rick G. says:

    I believe that fear is the root of all anxiety disorders that people nowadays experience.

  11. Heidi McCauley says:

    Thank you again for another wonderful column! You always make so much sense.

  12. notpropagandized says:

    This message speaks to me. Excellent.

  13. Robert says:

    Robert: I think your books are brilliant especially "Looking out for #1" but Robert, Donald Trump is a living example of all the worst attributes you caution about in your books. He's a liar and a total con-man. He preaches HATE and loves to stir anger among people. He has no political principles, just winning no matter the cost. To see you defending this train wreck awful human being is so sad. What happened to you Robert? Your behavior is so disappointing.

    • lee says:

      Robert ringer is looking out for number one.himself by manipulating the deplorables in the trump movement.he's getting them do buy his books and ideas. His the ultimate con artist.

  14. patg2 says:

    Worrying about status is a waste of time and evidence that you have no self respect. You're trying to build yourself by artificial means. And usually at the expense of others. If you have no self worth from within, you have no self worth. (A Christian gets his self worth from knowing what price Jesus paid for him. The price is indicative of his worth.)

  15. B Wilds says:

    When I started reading I thought your story might head towards the subject of Russia and how Americans have an oversized fear they will "get us." The fact is fear shapes much of how we see the world..

    Like so many other things the myth of Russia's strength has been amplified by journalists seeking to routinely curry favor with government sources and others by falsely hyping the official point of view. The fact is Russia's economy is rather small and while over the years they produce and export a lot of weapons their military is not well funded. More on Russia today in the article below.

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