Fear is not a good thing, and many things should be feared. Many of the things which people dislike about Donald Trump’s speeches are the frequent and emphatic appeals to fear: “the world is dangerous”, “they are coming to get us”, “terrible trade deals”, “worst ever”, …. In the real estate business, there is also a lot to fear: “property is very expensive” “incredibly high risk”, “financial contagion leads to the end of civilization”. So, what can teachable moments from Trump’s campaign teach us?
Every opposition politician offers reasons showing why the one in power currently did a bad job. The election campaigns of both Donald Trump and Bernie Sanders benefited from the real fear of some American voters that they will lose their jobs in the near future.
The Trump candidacy seems to go beyond the normal list of complaints. It is also impressive to see speeches which spread fear by using vague questions and encouraging conspiracy theories. It is easy to find Trump’s speeches posing puzzles such as “I wonder why …” when there is an easy answer which differs from what he would prefer. It is easy to find statements such as “some people say …” or “You know what I mean.”
These statements are great as rhetorical device: the audience thinks that you know the answer while opponents do not have any particular objection to fact check.
(Since it is also incredibly hard to refute a conspiracy theory conclusively, these comments are very instructive about the logic needed to make a good decision and to avoid misleading yourself. As many have noted, it is hard to convince somebody of the opposite to what they convinced themselves.)
So, one lesson from this teachable moment may be that being able to think clearly is valuable. Since that is sort of obvious, even if worth repeating, a more important lesson may worth highlighting: thinking clearly depends on not being paralyzed by fear.
The solution to fear is not emotion but to understand its basis. A couple of sources reinforce this lesson.
As one podcast series notes, fear should be seen as an acronym: False Expectations Appearing Real.
Drawing on a different context, an article in the Economist magazine ends with an extraordinarily memorable quote: “Fear smothers rational debate. It is meant to.”
“Fear” is not a solution. Since fear is an emotional response to something, it is worth noting that the same response may be appropriate to the alternative.
With this in mind, and to reveal a certain geekiness, I have been thinking about the Litany against Fear from the Dune novels. It starts as “I must not fear. Fear is a mind-killer. …”. The point about fear being a mind-killer is important, in all sorts of situations. It does not matter how much you know, if you forget it when it matters.
For many reasons, the real estate business is often a high stakes business: small projects are rare and there are always lots of unknowns. Exaggerating problems through fear often ends badly. The better solution is to think about them: not fearlessly but with care and awareness.