“He who fears he will suffer, already suffers because he fears.” –Michel de Montaigne
Fear- an unpleasant emotion caused by the belief that someone or something is dangerous, likely to cause pain, or a threat. (Defined by the Oxford English Dictionary)
I remember growing up how much my dad loved watching scary movies. He would seemingly wait until all light of day was lost to the night, and only then would he place a tape into the VCR. I recall playing safely in my room and bolting to his side out of sheer panic at the laugh of Chucky or the scrape of Freddy’s clawed glove against the steel pipes of his nightmare factory emitting from the living room. I would then sit with him in the glow of the T.V. and black all around us the rest of the night in horror of whatever scenes that the Hollywood dread-manufacturers could dream up to keep me awake for every night of the next month; but it was just recently that I realized something. When my ears heard whatever it was those nights to catalyze a sprint, I never ran away from the hazard. It was always toward the direction of the thing that brought on my fear that I scurried. Yes, I sat through an hour and a half of visual torture afterwards; but I endured it. I then lost some sleep and then lived the rest of my life up to now perfectly fine. I have grown up and am very happily married with a son, two dogs, and a house like many other people. I don’t really sit up all night afraid of boogeymen under the bed or in the closet very often. I faced some fear and came out of it without too much damage.
I recently spent a little time studying Michel de Montaigne whom I quoted at the beginning of this post. I do not agree with many of his positions and one of my personal role models, Blaise Pascal, had a tremendous amount of criticism for Michel; but I respect his position on this matter. Michel was a French nobleman who lived in the sixteenth century that wrote his greatest work, Essays, as a look into his perception of the world during some very difficult times. He penned it almost as a stream of continuous thought so that his reader may get a true representation of what was going through his mind at the time. He authored the publication throughout a large span of his years during which he acted as Mayor of Bordeaux when one-third of the city’s population died of plague, played the position of mediator between warring royal families, and witnessed battle very close to his home. It’s not what he saw that made him a remembered man, as many others saw the same, but it was his perception of what he saw that causes many even today to remember his work and read the words that he wrote. He had every right to succumb to fear like those around him, but he instead teaches us to never allow fear to cause us suffering. Michel de Montaigne understood that fear only has power over you if you give in to it, and he did not have the time to give in to worry. How is it that this man could face what he did and write an account of his own mind that would last centuries; but we shrink away in fear of our financial, interpersonal, or professional struggles and instead accept status quo?
That’s the funny thing about the objects that strike fear into our hearts isn’t it? They seem like such monstrous obstacles before we endure them, but when the worst is passed they are really never as bad as we make them out to be. We turn our first-world problems into wolves when really they are the historical equivalent of a chihuahua. I think that most of us recovered perfectly fine from those the things that terrified us as children, but now as adults it seems that we are even more prone to avoid the things that scare us than when we were younger. Daniel Gilbert is a Psychological Professor at Harvard and he has conducted some interesting studies in recent years that expand the scientific understanding of this susceptibility. His work demonstrates that our mind is really great at blowing things out of proportion so that we will not take risks. It also reveals that most events we would label as “traumatic” do not affect us mentally or emotionally for longer than three months and that the things that we think of as massive, life altering changes do not really cause the great differences that we believed prior to the occurrence taking place. Think about that for a moment. If the investment to change your life for the better fails, it will only affect your mental and emotional state for about ninety days and then you are back to normal. I would think that any investment that has an unlimited upside and a ninety day maximum downside is one that most of us would be jumping to take part in.
(Watch Dan Gilbert’s TED Talk here, it might change your perspective)
I think that it is interesting that we are hardwired with this mechanism to keep us from taking too great of risks and to avoid the unknown in the hope that it will prevent us from experiencing unwanted pain or discomfort. It absolutely baffles me that we grow to have a predisposition toward mediocrity and normalcy. I hope that I learn to fight it. Most people want to take a path of familiarity rather than the chances that might launch us into new places of happiness and true prosperity. I understand that inclination; but I want something better. Why not attack the thing that puts fear in your heart? The sensation of fear should tip you off to the fact that you may be going into uncharted territories, which if you are expanding your horizon is exactly where you need to be. If you are afraid of it, then you must be up against something big. If you win, you may reap great rewards; and if you lose, chances are that it won’t hurt for too long.
Fear: Some run from it, the brave face it, but the truly great USE it,