A Bringer of New Things

I want to read and learn all I can, write thoughtfully and truthfully, live according to reason and ever more mature wisdom, and savor every wonderful little gift of life.

“Fear is stronger than love”: Thoughts, Reflections on Anna Karenina, and a Haiku

I was blown away when I read this proverb in The Good Book by A.C. Grayling: “Fear is stronger than love.” It’s not a pretty, cheery, Valentine’s-candy-heart saying at all; it’s not an optimistic mantra like the ones I doodle on my notebooks. But it’s true—solemnly true. And in its own way, it is a positive rule to live by.

Think about it: fear is stronger than love. It is woefully easy to let a perfectly healthy relationship be torn down by fear and all its manifestations—such as jealousy, suspicion, insecurity, and pretenses—while it is truly difficult to persistently choose love and its own manifestations, such as trust, honesty, kindness, and romance.

After the initial infatuation period of “falling in love” (which can have its own trials that require choosing love over fear, though fear also serves an important purpose during this phase of slowing us down and making us cautious about giving away our hearts), the deeper and more settled love of everyday-life companions requires vigilant protection.

We must fight for our love to protect it from the termites-like destruction of fear, silent and unnoticeable at first, but devastating if left untreated. We must continually protect our love by choosing open communication and honesty over the accumulation of little hurts, worries, and irritations; by choosing words that are true but restrained, kind, and loving over the stinging barbs we want to throw when we’re tired or threatened; and by choosing romance and a bit of mystery over the encroaching monotony and contempt-breeding-familiarity of everyday life. Choices like these are armor to our love, fortifying it against the forces of fear.

Reading Anna Karenina was a sobering warning about this principle that “fear is stronger than love.” Anna’s lover was faithful to her and tried to reassure her of his constant love, but her fear of losing him (in part because they weren’t married) was just too strong. Rather than choosing to trust him, which would make her vulnerable but would also reward her with the sweetness of love, she took the easier route of letting destructive fear have its way.

Her story is so sad to me that I keep trying to work out a way to express it in a poem (see an early attempt here). Right now it’s a haiku, though it doesn’t capture all I want it to say…

Bare foot on a rose—
wounded, wounding—just like the
fear that crushes love.

May you choose the harder but happier path—as I’m trying to in my own marriage—of constantly protecting your love from the destructiveness of fear, rather than fearfully, destructively protecting your heart from hurt. “Fear is stronger than love”—so don’t let it win.

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And for a positive example:

“I fell in love with him. But I don’t just stay with him by default as if there’s no one else available to me. I stay with him because I choose to, every day that I wake up, every day that we fight or lie to each other or disappoint each other. I choose him over and over again, and he chooses me.”

– from Allegiant by Veronica Roth, Chapter 36

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13 comments on ““Fear is stronger than love”: Thoughts, Reflections on Anna Karenina, and a Haiku

  1. A Journey With You
    March 27, 2015

    I hid a huge portion of my life for over twenty years based on fear. Today, I choose courage and love. 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

  2. A Journey With You
    March 27, 2015

    I hid a large part of my life for over twenty years because of fear. Today, I choose courage and love 🙂

    Like

    • Sarrah J. Woods
      March 27, 2015

      That’s wonderful that you’ve finally gained the courage to open up to love! Thanks for sharing, and I wish you rich rewards from your bravery.

      Like

  3. Book Guy Reviews
    March 27, 2015

    This is beautiful! I agree completely that fear is the strongest emotion we have. It’s the backbone (unfortunately) of progress. Thank you so much for sharing the beautiful connection with Tolstoy! If you’re ever interested in some other sweet book reviews and literary musings, be sure to follow! Thanks!!!

    Like

    • Sarrah J. Woods
      March 27, 2015

      Thank you! That’s an interesting thought, that fear is the backbone of progress. I’ll have to chew on that. And yes I’ll visit your site ASAP; I love literary musings!

      Liked by 1 person

  4. lucindasagemidgorden
    March 27, 2015

    Sarah, I don’t agree that fear is stronger than love. That’s something our ego wants us to believe and we’re just used to living in fear. Because of that love seems like a distant pipe dream. It takes courage to turn to love because we don’t know what living in love feels like and anything new is scary. However, once we choose love, the hold fear has on us weakens and eventually dissipates. Then we are truly free. Anna didn’t think she deserved to be loved and so she gave into fear and despair. If she’d trusted love, she could have had a happy life. That’s the lesson of that book.

    Like

    • Sarrah J. Woods
      March 30, 2015

      Thanks for your thoughts, Lucinda. I think it’s just a matter of semantics, really—we seem to be in agreement about the main point, which is that fear can both prevent us from opening up to love as well as undermine the loving relationships we already have.

      Like

  5. onehungryghost
    March 27, 2015

    Beautiful post. In my own life, I think fear prevails more often than love — certainly it does whenever I’m tired or otherwise stressed — and I do think there’s an essential power to fear that love lacks. It seems parallel to some other things — for instance that aggression wins over nonaggression by default. Nonaggressive people must be awfully resourceful and invest quite a lot in order to have any chance of not being dominated by aggressive forces. (Thus we need policing, courts, and other functions of government.) Loud music can affect others strongly, and demands/commands attention, where considerate modulation of noise allows people to attend to us or not, as they please. One neighbor with loud, mean dogs is enough to ruin quality of life in a neighborhood, and it takes no effort, intention, or even attention for the one neighbor to have that effect. Consideration takes effort, practice, and dedication; aggression is innate and easy.

    Perhaps which force — fear or love — is stronger depends on the life under the lens. But I think love, as you describe it working in intimate relationships, requires cultivation and intention. No one is born unselfish. If we’re lucky enough to have the resources necessary for cultivating love and trust, if we understand the importance doing so and choose accordingly, we can indeed save ourselves much of Anna Karenina’s unhappiness.

    Like

    • Sarrah J. Woods
      March 30, 2015

      Thanks so much for these reflections. I like your analogy about aggression tending to win over nonaggression unless preventative measures are consistently, effortfully practiced. I guess the general truth that encompasses both situations here is that destructive forces are by default more powerful than constructive ones. It’s easier to smash something already made than make something new, and nature can destroy years of cultivation in a single moment’s earthquake, tsunami, or hurricane. In both the physical and psychological, all we can do is build and rebuild and use the results of careful observation to try to prevent destruction or protect from it as far as we can.

      Like

  6. emilievardaman
    March 28, 2015

    I believe is the root of intolerance and all the “-isms” in our world. Most wars are based on fear. To me, this says a lot about the damage of fear in our lives.

    Like

  7. Sarrah J. Woods
    March 30, 2015

    I agree, Emilie, that fear is the root of intolerance. That’s an excellent point. One could also turn it around and say that intolerance is one manifestation of fear. And like just about everything, I think fear carries more power when it is not named and recognized for what it is.

    I assume you are referring to the intolerance-related “-isms” such as “racism,” “sexism,” “ageism,” “fundamentalism,” “terrorism,” and perhaps even “patriotism.” Also I think “narcissism” would fit. But personally I don’t love the semantics of saying “the ‘-isms'” because there are so many “-ism” words that aren’t descriptions of fear and prejudice, including important words we use all the time such as “feminism” and “capitalism” but also a bunch of other random words, such as “cubism,” “polytheism,” “albinoism,” “autism,” “mysticism,” and so on. But, like I said, it’s just semantics.

    Like

    • emilievardaman
      March 30, 2015

      Yes, I meant the intolerant -isms. Surely not the positive ones! So maybe it is more clear to say intolerance.

      Liked by 1 person

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