The Power of Fear and Love
In the later 1950s, psychologist Harry Harlow conducted a famous series of experiments with rhesus monkeys that showed that well-being requires a secure and loving home base. Monkeys reared with an uncomfortable wire substitute âmotherâ that provided only nourishment were paralyzed by fear, unable to interact with other monkeys or their environment. Those reared with a comfy terry-cloth âmotherâ did much better: the comforting touch of the cloth reduced their anxiety, and they could explore their environment as long as they had this secure base. Of course, monkeys did best when reared by calm and competent actual rhesus mothers.
Research with young humans confirms this: As we gradually explore and interact with the world, we too need a secure base from which to venture, and to which we can return. Weâve all seen the abrupt release and relief of an upset young child when a parent arrives on the scene. When young, that base must be physically presentâa source of comfort, relief from fear and anxiety, protection, nourishment. As we develop, we gradually internalize that loving base, carrying it within ourselves, but it serves a similar function.
People who have not developed healthy attachments when young struggle throughout their lives in multiple ways. They are often deeply lost, and deeply fearful. Love is the centre and foundation of our ability to flourish.
Our culture is one of fear, not of love. It isnât rooted in a healthy attachment to anything. And thus, collectively, we live out of fear. There is a relentless and increasing clamor of voices speaking warningly, fearfully, depressingly of environmental and economic catastrophe. Weâve got to change things! Now! Before itâs too late! No waitâitâs already too late! We run about blindly, panicking. We either believe we can come up with rational solutions, give up in despair, or pretend the problems donât exist. None of these approaches is going to help us because they are all built on the useless foundation of fear.
Henri Nouwen in his book âLifesignsâ argues that we must live in the house of love, the home of Christ. It is when we are ârooted and established in love [that] we may have power, together with all the saints, to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ, and to know this love that surpasses knowledgeâthat [we] may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God.â (Ephesians 3:17-19) And âthere is no fear in loveâŚbut perfect love drives out fear.â ( I John 4:18)
This house of love is no airy-fairy getaway cottage in an afterlife, but the secure ground from which we can move confidently in the world. Whenever the fear gets overwhelming, we are called to remember and return in our hearts to our home, where we are comforted, healed, and gently encouraged and guided as we venture forth.
I donât know how to solve our environmental problems. I do that we are called to be rooted in love, and promised that when we are, we WILL have peace and power, through the grace of God, to experience and be instruments of transformation and healing. It’s the place to start.
This post was authored by Dr. Heather Looy.