Fright and Sight
As stores prepare for the final two weeks before Halloween and costumes receive their last minute drops of blood and ghoulish masks are fitted, many of us look forward to the future with great trepidation. When the prospect of looking forward is too scary, we simply try to avoid it.
“I think, therefore I am. I think, therefore I fear. I think, so ….I’m gonna go to sleep!” Change is not something many of us easily accept. Whether it is a big change or small, the body perceives it as a threat and reacts accordingly. Perhaps our reaction and the emotion we experience which we call fear is due to its etymology. It is a most interesting history but could its scariness really be that simple?
The noun form of the word “fear” comes from several Middle English words such as feer, fere, and fer, which meant danger, as well as the Old English faer which meant danger. It is also related to the German “fera”, defined as danger but also the Proto-Indo-European word “per”. Unlike the modern English usage of the word “per” which is used to single out, this earlier “per” translated as an attempt, to try or research, to risk.
Our modern usage of the word “fear” is three-fold. It can refer to the uncomfortable emotion of fear; ir can be a phobia which is usually defined as an irrational amount of fear. Fear can also refer to how one worships or holds a belief or deity in reverence. Psychologists such as John Watson, Robert Plutchik, and Paul Ekman consider man and woman to have only a few innate or natural emotions. Fear is one of them. Many believe fear to be the backbone of evolution and the fear responses the reason mankind has survived.
I am particularly interested in the connection between the definitions of fear. When we hold something in great esteem or reverence, it can be said we “fear” it. Does that threaten us? After all, fear we fear something when we perceive it to be a threat or to pose a danger to us. Fear is not the same as anxiety and that is an often overlooked fact. Anxiety is our reaction to threats that are uncontrolled or unavoidable.
We have discussed the fight or flight response to fear in past articles. The body perceives a threat and it does what it thinks best to protect itself. It varies based upon personalities, cultures, and genus/species, but it really is something all animals have in common. Fear exists to protect us. Anxiety, however, is another matter.
Anxiety is all about our perception. Some anxiety can be useful. It can remind us to check and double check situations, making sure we have all our bases covered, so to speak. Often, though, anxiety is very limiting. What we call a fear of change is actually an anxiety of change, even though change is one of the constants in life. The following quote is sometimes attributed to nelson Mandela but was originally said by Marianna Williamson: Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure. It is our light, not our darkness, that most frightens us. We ask ourselves, who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, talented, and fabulous?”
Could that possible be true? Do we fear or become anxious about change because we worry about being successful? What could we accomplish if we embraced change? What could be the repercussions if we embraced change and it…gulp… failed? Is that even possible?
At a recent wedding rehearsal, the mother of the groom was heard to remark: “I’ve had two weddings; don’t worry. We will all get to where we are supposed to be and if not, we’ll have a great anecdote to tell for the rest of our lives. My first wedding was a training exercise so the second has been wonderful because of what I learned the first time. Relax and enjoy!”
Weddings are the perfect example of how we fear change and yet, at the same time, often embrace it. Many believe civilization is on the brink of its greatest change since the ACE began. Maeterlinck said: “At every crossroad on the way that leads to the future, each progressive spirit is opposed by a thousand men appointed to guard the past.”
Those believing in this great change feel that the world is going to be divided into thinkers, who will lead, and non-thinkers who will follow. Bertrand Russell believed “Men fear THOUGHT, as they fear nothing else on earth.” I disagree. I don’t think people really fear thinking as much as the fear the results of our thinking. What husband hasn’t felt a stab of intense fear when, after settling into his easy chair, heard his wife utter these words: “Honey, I think….” That husband fears a list of chores is about to be uttered, all the result of his wife’s “thinking”.
Some would say war is the result of thinking, some thinking they deserve to be the leader and are willing to make that happen regardless of who must die. Is that really thinking? Let’s go back to our definition of fear and the Proto-Indo-European word “per”, Remembering that this earlier “per” translates as “an attempt, to try or research, to risk”.
Most of us have had a great idea – that one thing that will make everyone’s life easier. Few of us take it to the next level. Why? We are afraid of failing. Nothing has ever been invented on the first try and had instant success. Even if the first generation of a device is successful, the inventor(s) were not newborn babies. They used their gained knowledge from their life as their teaching tool and their thinking which led to the invention was predicated upon that living.
Clearly the woman in our wedding story was at peace with her past. She had taken the risk of getting married the first time and used it as a life lesson. Most of us would rather only have one marriage for a number of reasons. Allowing ourselves to be victimized because we made a mistake, however, is not healthy. We all make mistakes. That is how we learn.
Peace comes when we accept our human-ness. I know several people for whom spiders are a wonderful creature, delightful in their movement and fascinating in their varieties. For me spiders are not pleasant. They may be, in some varieties, warm and fuzzy but the feelings I experience upon seeing them are definitely NOT warm and fuzzy. I do not remember which spiders can be harmful and so, I fear them all. I realize, though, that my anxiety about spiders should not take center stage. The best thing to do is for me to remain calm and simply remove myself from the area…or ask someone to remove the spider. Occasionally, I even move it myself.
Tony Robbins is often quoted: “Change is inevitable. Progress is optional.” There are many justified instance where we will feel fear. It might save your life. There are also many instances that will bring about anxiety. These can either be opportunities to check and recheck to make sure we are doing things correctly or they can be crippling, life-stopping events.
When we realize that anxiety is simply a yield sign and not a stop sign, then we can grow and learn and yes, even think. Change is the hallmark of being alive. As we live, we evolve and evolution is simply change due to living. Peace comes when we embrace our living and hang on for the ride of our life.
The foundation of peace is knowing we are strong and can overcome whatever the future might bring. We do not do this alone, however. Living the ordinary and making it extraordinary is a group effort. Together we can face the future and do so without fear. The choice is ours.