i've been editing some blogs of mine i lifted off a site i'll no longer use. Considering how fear driven the world seems these days, how determined to escalate fears our media seem to be, i think this one is timely.
Some people label fear a 'negative' emotion. But 'negatives' are not necessarily always 'bad. Negative ions, the old 'negative' of film cameras, the thoughtful 'No, thank you.' can all be 'good' in someone's life. But that's a whole other topic. Today i want to talk to you about the uses of fear.
i've been a confronter of fear from earliest memory. When a water moccasin came up a slanted bank barely three feet from me every instinct screamed 'run' but my Dad had taught me to 'freeze' and let the snake go it's way...do nothing it could interpret as threatening. So at barely 2 1/2 years i froze and stared at the snake as my sisters ran to get my Mom and she shot the poor snake from the front porch. i never doubted she could make the shot and almost felt bad for the snake. When i was about six the friends of my high school aged sisters were climbing a two story tall tree on the vacant lot next to our house, walking out on a branch and diving/jumping into the deep river. Now i climbed our trees all the time, and walked both tight and slack wires from 5-8 feet off the ground. But i was an original 'me, too' kid...if someone else could do it i had to try. So i climbed up...passing kids who'd hit their limit and were 'stuck', unable to complete the challenge or climb down. Some sneered, some knew better or knew me better. i walked out the branch, looked down, backed up, ran forward again and launched myself, despite that being the greatest height from which i'd ever looked down at the time. In school i spoke up when something didn't seem right much to the chagrin of teachers and classmates alike...'good, ie smart, students' were not supposed to argue with authority...but i did. In my teens i became a confronter of more subtle psychological fears...but went at them with the same determination i used to approach physical fears. As a young adult living in NYC I confronted my claustrophobia by riding subways and elevators. I didn’t conquer it, that is a story for another time, but I confronted daily.
The understanding i have of fear is that one has of an intimate enemy. It is not just from readings in psychology and philosophy. i've come to feel it can be a positive thing. Fear of natural consequences of risks we take, of natural things like animals and extreme weather, can prompt us to take reasonable precautions and to make better decisions about what risks are worth taking.
Let me be clear...phobic levels of fear are not healthy...they have natural consequences for both our physical bodies (anxiety/stress is an exacerbating factor in most every ailment) and our souls (keeping us from pursuing our dreams, our bliss). But rational fear, whether of the power of a hurricane or the consequences of telling off a boss at work, can be helpful to us.
That is all prelude to the most important things i have to say about fear: 1) Tell me what infuriates you and i will know your fears...even if you don't acknowledge them. 2) When a behavioral choice is between being fearful or being loving...always act from love (note: compassion for fellow beings is a form of love).
The fear/anger connection is palpable. Road rage? Well those angry at drivers who are obeying the traffic laws are probably afraid of anyone exerting any control over their lives. Newsflash...we live in an overpopulated, interactive world...there will always be influences on our lives from other's actions. Those who are screaming about speeders and lane hoppers...we're afraid some fool is going to cause bodily harm or death to us or our loved ones and that makes us angry. i've started blessing those fools...it will catch up with them eventually...i pray no-one else will be involved. But on a more personal level when we get angry at friends, family, co-workers most of the time a fear of loss is behind it-- loss of status, reputation, or just our own inflated self-image. Little angers me anymore...abuse, especially of the most helpless (children, the disabled, animals) inspires anger in me. The fear? Well, no doubt part of it is fear that i will encounter an abuser when/if i ever become a helpless elder. But another part is that i'm empathic...i feel the pain of others. i've known more survivors of childhood abuse than i care to...and observed the lifelong damage it can cause. And a large part of the fear is of how I might respond. When my kids were small, and even some now...i fear what i might do if i caught someone in the act of harming them. After the fact i could be rational and law-abiding focused on healing for my loved one and justice...but i don't trust what i might do if i caught someone in the act. Once upon a time i threatened a man with a 2 x 4 because a neighbor i was not even that close to but viewed as vulnerable due to mental health issues lay at his feet. Only her coming to and insisting he had not touched her stopped me from beating him with the board. How much further would i go if it was my child? THAT scares me because i'm a peaceful person in general, a fan of Gandhi and Martin Luther King, Jr.
Choosing fear instead of love as basis for choices of behavior. i have befriended people others would have viewed as 'enemies'. It disarmed some of them, emboldened others (to their later regret, because i don't tolerate anyone abusing me either). But i was always satisfied that my first response was to take a loving peaceful path, even if they finally pushed me into defense of self. Sometime i'll write about the fact that we all make 'judgments' every day...and most of them are merely choices: Healthy food, healthy activities. Prejudice is what needs to be avoided. Prejudice of all kinds is based on assumptions and stereotypes, most of them fallacious. While stereotypes (racial/religious/gender/behavioral--ie never marrying, cheating on partners) often have a small germ of truth in them...that's how they got started...the stereotypes rarely hold up for ALL members of any group. We should not make assumptions about the whys of someone's choices. We can make observations...but that means of them personally, not based on some other bachelor(ettes) or cheater’s motives. Whatever behavior scares us the most in some way is the behavior we are most likely to be judgmental in the negative connotation of the word about. We don't like feeling afraid...some of us don't even like to acknowledge their fears which actually gives the fear more power to influence behavioral choices...we avoid or label and lambast because of what frightens us. But when we develop the habit of reacting from love/compassion we reserve judgment, we allow each individual to show us their unique motivations. We may decide the actions taken were justified/excused by the motive or unjustified/inexcusable...but always it needs to be directly related to what we observe in that specific individual. i can do this 90% of the time now, and another 5-8% of the time i catch myself after the initial disgruntled/angry feeling rises in me. My life is so much more peaceful. It took work, confronting the fear that lurked behind the angers. But as i said i've been a confronter of fear most of life...i'm not about to stop now.