"I’ve experienced many terrible things in my life, a few of which actually happened."
– Mark Twain
A man driving his luxury car late at night becomes lost and slowly realizes that he is in a very bad part of town. When his car breaks down, the tension mounts. He is approached by a group of gang members, one of whom is brandishing a handgun. The tow truck he has called arrives, but as its driver confronts the gunman, the outcome is unclear.
This is the opening scene from the 1991 film “Grand Canyon.” It sticks in my mind more than a quarter century later because of the artful way it resonates with the wide-ranging fears that engulf us. Some of those cause the all-too-familiar knot in the stomach, while others we hardly notice.
If you’ve ever wondered why you’re afraid of so many things, don’t panic. We are all hard-wired for fear courtesy of a small portion of the brain known as the amygdala. Scientists blame this chunk of grey-matter for emotional responses like fear, anxiety and aggression. If you are a caveman who fears a rustle in the bushes that could be a sabretooth tiger, this is a good thing. When you are an office worker afraid to open an urgent email from your boss, not so much.