OPINION: What are you really afraid of? - Father Gary Waddington, St Wilfrid’s Harrogate

I wonder what it is that you’re really afraid of? Psychologists tell us that phobias and fears are based in a primordial need for us to be in control, and that if we find ourselves losing control, our greatest fear is exposed: of looking stupid.

Thursday, 8th July 2021, 5:32 pm
17th March 2020 Pictured Team Rector Gary Waddington at The Parish of St Wilfrid Church, Harrogate. Picture Gerard Binks

Let’s face it, none of us likes to look stupid. Yet most of us have found ourselves at times when we’ve “lost it” and have to spend time backtracking, apologising and putting things right.

We feel small, we feel diminished, we feel ashamed.

We can of course try to ‘double down’ and bluff and bluster our way out. But too often that approach only lands us in greater hot water.

As my mum often used to say: “If you find yourself in a hole, why do you keep digging?”

As a parish priest, there are plenty of times I have seen people twist themselves in knots over this. Aware that they’re about to be found out, the web of half-truths and sometimes downright lies builds. And like a house of cards, there inevitably comes a point where everything crashes down. At that point, a far bigger mess needs sorting out than would have been the case if we’d woken up earlier to the reality of the situation we’ve found ourselves in, acted wisely and eaten a little humble pie.

Yet the people I perhaps feel for most are those who have been spun half-truths; have been misled or given promises arbitrarily broken.

Those who peddle such lies do so by convincing us that a fear exists, when in reality there is nothing to fear at all. They convince us that we will be diminished, when we won’t; that we will have lost something that we never had; that ‘someone’ will take from us what we have, when the truth is that it is the person misleading us who is the one who is really stealing - from our dignity as a human being.

We live in a society where there are many voices to tell us what we need to fear.

Many of these are lies. They distort reality and make it more difficult for us to distinguish between might be important and what is not. They distract from real dangers by creating imaginary phantoms.

We know this as children. There are no monsters under the bed, except those created by those who tell us that there are for their own amusement.

What we have to learn is not to be afraid of them: we shine a light so that we can discover truth. We might feel a bit silly for a while when we find we’ve been lied to – but how life improves when we seek truth out rather than relying on falsehoods.

So when someone tells you that you should be afraid, ask yourself: “why?”.

For those who whip up frenzied mischief may well have manufactured nothing more than a monster under the bed.