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This was the idea which came back to me that autumn at Versailles, and from which, in the course of time, I drew my conclusions.
Briefly, those conclusions were to the effect that as individuals, we need difficulties to overcome, and that fear is a stimulus to overcoming them. Otherwise expressed, fear loses much of its fearfulness when we see it as the summons to putting forth new energies. Unless we were conscious of the energies, such a call would not reach us. The creatures preceding man could have felt no misgiving, since they lacked the imagination essential to a dread. Such fear as they were equal to must have seized them in paroxysms of terror when calamities threatened to overwhelm them. If they made their escape good, no trace of the fear remained behind the brain having little or no power of retention. We may take it for granted that the pterodactyl and the trachodon had none of the foreboding based on experience which destroys the peace of man.
Fear, as we understand it, was in itself a signal of advance. It could only have begun with the exercise of reason. Arrived at the rudiments of memory, the creature must have been able to perceive, however dimly, that the thing which had happened might happen again. Adding the first stirrings of imagination, he must have constructed possible events in which the danger would come from the same causes as before. With the faculties to remember, to reason, and to imagine all at work, we reach the first stages of man.
Man was born into fear, in that he was born into a world in which most of the energies were set against him. He was a lone thing fighting his own battle. The instinct for association which made the mammals different from other animals didn’t help him much, since association did not bring mutual help as a matter of course, and never has done so. A man could count on no one but himself. Not only were prodigious natural forces always menacing him with destruction; not only was the beast his enemy and he the enemy of the beast; but his hand was against his fellow man and his fellowman’s hand against him. This mutual hostility followed men in their first groupings into communities, and only to a degree have we lived it down in the twentieth century.
Perhaps this conviction that a man’s strength lay in standing single-handed against circumstance was the first small discovery I made in my own fight with fear. Looking back on the developments which had brought man into the world, I saw a marvellous power of getting around difficulties when you couldn’t cut through them. Just as a river that cannot flow over a rock can glide about its feet and turn it into a picturesque promontory, so I recognized in myself an inborn human faculty for “sidestepping” that which blocked my way, when I couldn’t break it down.
I left Versailles with just that much to the good—a perception that the ages had bequeathed me a store of abilities that I was allowing to lie latent. Moving into Paris, to more cheerful surroundings, I took up again the writing of the book I had abandoned more than a year previously. After long seclusion, I began to see a few people, finding them responsive and welcoming. My object in stating these unimportant details is merely to show that in proportion as I ceased to show fear, the life-principle hastened to my aid. Little by little, I came to the belief that the world about me was a system of co-operative friendliness, and that it was my part to use it in that way.