Fear, believe it or not, can be a trusted adviser. When you’re about to be bitten by a rattlesnake, for example, that jolt of adrenaline and reflexive back-pedal can be a very good thing.
The thing to remember is that fear is an instinctive, primal response. There’s not a lot of intellectualizing going on. In fact, the kind of fear that invokes a fight-or-flight response happens faster than we can form actual thought. Which is why fear absolutely deserves a seat on the bus–without fear, we’d probably all be dead.
At the same time, fear can also become a crippling limitation. If I step off a curb and hear a bus horn blaring, leaping back onto that curb was a smart move. But if I conclude from this incident that crossing streets is inherently unsafe and I will never, ever do it again, I have tipped over from fear into phobia. And I have limited myself unnecessarily, and pretty ridiculously.
Fear knows some stuff. When the hair rises on your arms, when a shiver goes down your spine, when your Spidey senses are on alert, it’s worth taking a listen and see what fear has to say.
But fear is just one of the advisers in your head, and fear, because it is so primitive and reflexive, can be absolutely off-base. It might help to think of fear as a small child. A child is capable of warning you when something threatening is about to happen. A child looks out for your well-being, because your well-being is intimately tied to hers. A child is worth listening to.
Except that fears, like children, can sometimes be over-the-top, silly, or just plain wrong. They don’t have all the information the rest of you does, so they process just one piece of the puzzle. Is that long thing on the path ahead of you a rattlesnake, or is it a stick? Only you–ALL of you–know for sure.
So keep fear in your corner. Notice it when it presses the alarm button. And then evaluate whether there’s really something to be afraid of, and, if so, what you’re going to do about it.
Fear makes a great passenger. But don’t let it drive your bus.
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