Adolescence is marked in every culture by what anthropologists have called ‘rites of passage’ involving the social recognition of entry into puberty, usually through a formal ritual or ceremony. These states of being are also associated with what has been called the ‘danger’ of being betwixt and between childhood and adulthood. The experience of being in this state is often linked with the fear of becoming (or not becoming) something. This paper explores the ontology of fear among young adults who, as they leave their teenage years behind, must face a world filled with randomness and responsibility.
Instead of positing a moral framework of analysis of fear, where fear is adjudged a vice and fortitude a virtue, in K’s writings we see a more dialogic approach to the question of fear. To problematize fear then would be to view it as a response to something such as a threat. In the world of the teenager this threat is of having to give up established habits and comforts that are known and predictable. It is the potential of loss of the reassurance of past routines in the future of becoming a responsible adult.
Immediately after high school board exams there is a euphoria followed by a dull pain that begins to grow slowly and insidiously. It is the fear grounded in the loss of structures of time—of moving out of the daily rhythm of going to school and back. There is an uncanny reassurance in the weekly time-table and the inevitability of the weekend. It is not just the comfort of a structured curriculum that is at peril but also the stable orientation of one’s body on a day to day level that is at risk. One post-school student even remarked that her daily diet had gone awry after having left school and the condition had indeed contributed to her failing health.
Leaving the comfort of home and school is also related to the threat of the loss of multiple witnesses of one’s life on a daily basis. The need to interact and relate over various media such as phone, chat, sms or Skype are only ways of ‘filling up’ this emptiness with the ‘haven of security’ provided by one’s friends and relatives. The sociality associated with the contemporary global world further lends itself to the restructuring of time as both instantaneous and simultaneous, where one can be in many places, no place, or virtual space all at the same time. In this scenario, empty or momentary (meditative?) time recedes as does being attentive to one’s own thoughts, feelings and actions, and along with it, the possibility of addressing and engaging with one’s fears.
If there is reassurance of routine and fear of the loss thereof then, the becoming of an adult and its related loss of permitted irresponsibility as a teenager is equally fear worthy. The fear of having to ‘fend for oneself’ or becoming responsible means moving out of the car pool and taking public transportation; meeting and socialising with new people and from whom you may not receive unconditional love or acceptance; taking care of one’s own bodily hygiene, health and safety. Likewise there is the fear of having to adopt and adapt to new thought patterns and paradigms outside of the known and the familiar. It is akin to having to jump across a deep chasm (of thought patterns) in a single big leap of faith. Parental beliefs are safe but having one’s own version of reality, or attempting to forge one, means having to lose existing beliefs and values.
Fear of the unknown or of becoming an adult is not only about acquiring new thought patterns but also abdicating habituated thoughts which in turn influence behaviour among young adults. The dominant paradigm of adulthood is socio-economic success. But challenging that is dangerous. Doing so would not only raise the wrath of authority figures such as parents and mentors but also make one ‘different’ and even a possible social misfit in the future. The imperative to conform is not coincidental but part of this habitus of fear.
We have seen that both structures of time and structures of thought are the two anchors of fear among adolescents. In K’s words:
‘Thought is the origin of fear; time gives soil to fear. So one has to understand fear and be free of fear—not the fear of the snake, but the deep down fear which gives sorrow, the fear which prevents affection, the fear which clouds the mind, the fear which creates conflict, and the fear which brings about darkness …’
Fear is the anxiety of being and becoming or not being or not becoming something sometime in the future. Escape from the complexities of this dynamic passage or a flight from fear is the desire to maintain security of structures of both time and thought. Young adults are entangled not so much in fear but in the structures that maintain and promote fear. Can we look at fear outside of both the past and the future? Can we see it and comprehend it; acknowledge it and experience it for what it is without reference to a desirable past or a threatening future?