On Fear.

“I am scared of things changing. And I’m scared of them staying the same.”

Recently, these words tumbled out of my mouth, confession-style. There it was: I was scared. It was unconstructive, and it was awkward, and I didn’t know what to do with it. But I knew I was scared.

My friend offered a mini-pep talk, but she didn’t sound totally sure.  I grabbed a kleenex as I teared up.  She teared up, too–because fear is contagious, because empathy is the real deal, because it’s freaking January and the lack of sun is cramping our style/emotions, guys.

I was scared. It was good to talk about it, good to recognize it.  But the fear itself?

I knew, and I know, that fear is not a good thing.

It’s not good that many of my biggest stressors are fear-based. Just fear-based. Not things that are actually happening.  Not things that exist outside my head. 

It’s not good that these fears often do the opposite of protecting me–instead, they just kind of make me inaccessible.

It’s not good (in fact, it’s straight-up dangerous) for fear to be anyone’s main motivational force. And, of course, it’s never fun to be facing the world scared kitten style.

Not the best role model for coping skills.
Probably not the best role model.

But despite all this, the fear was there. It was real. It is real.

And so I began searching for where that fear fit…and where it really, really did not fit.

What is fear, why is it here, and what should we do with it?

I guess it’s easy enough to define fear, at least in simple terms.  Fear is really just an evolutionary instinct which helps us to recognize situations that present physical, emotional, or mental danger. My momentary burst of “I AM SO SCARED OF LIFE AND EVERYTHING INSIDE IT AND WHAT AM I EVEN DOING” was a (twisted kind of) fear response.  Simply, my brain and body recognized that something could go wrong, and made me aware of that–whether I liked it or not.

Fear responses can be pretty great for survival. We can use them to identify and respond to threats–potential predators, unhealthy consumption, I probably shouldn’t put a fork in this toaster. Fear is a great tool.

Again: It’s a great tool.

But the thing about tools is that you are supposed to control them. They aren’t supposed to control you.

The problem with fear is that it can grow, it can get overzealous, and it can control you.  Our fear impulses don’t only warn us against being electrocuted or poisoned or thrown in jail.  They warn us about other “dangers,” too.

Here are a few popular ones…

Loving always, always leaves us in danger of losing.  Scary.
Trying consistently leaves us in danger of failing.  Also, scary.
Living has a 100% probability of ending in death. Yiiiiikes.

Essentially, if fear is doing its basic, natural job, it’s going to be fighting all this loving/trying/living stuff.  After all, what is more fatal than life itself?  

Fear is the natural enemy of living. And loving. And caring. And trying.  Giving fear too much power will naturally lead to you avoiding those things.

(Actually, giving fear too much power will naturally lead to you avoiding pretty much everything.)

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The problem is that you can’t avoid many of these things. You can’t. Locked up hearts still break. Not giving something a shot can still leave you feeling like a failure. And not living your life isn’t going to make you any less likely to die.

Whether we fear it or embrace it, we’re all going to lose, and fail, and change, and die.

Which of course begs the question…

What is fear’s place in our lives? And how do we keep it there?

I’m sure it’s obvious by now that I’m not the biggest fan of fear.

In fact, I tend to think of “fear” as being the opposite of “love”…or at least, the closest thing to an opposite of “love” that the English language has.

But that’s the English language.  And it’s not perfect.  Those opposites are certainly not perfect.  Love and Fear are pretty vague terms which don’t always reflect on each other– you and I both know that.

But they both are often involved.  And when they are, love should dominate.

Here’s how:

Fear, from an evolutionary perspective, exists for a reason. So sure, sure, it’s allowed to be a juror on your internal decision making panel.  Instinctive self-protection, caution, whatever you want to call it…your fear can make a quick statement.  Of course it can.

But then your courage gets to make a statement. Same with your reason, empathy, experience, goals, and values.

And Love? It gets to be the final judge. Love should always be the final judge.

You have a lot of internal jurors at work inside of you, a lot of tools at your disposal. Fear can be one of those tools, it can be.

You just have to control your fear before it controls you.

Sidenote: this video was what got me thinking about this and it is awesome and will blow your mind.  So you should all watch it. kcool.

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On Fear, Love, and Bombs in Boston.

“A bomb just went off at the Boston Marathon, guys.”

My boss shared the news as he passed through the office. To be honest, I thought it was just another gnarly music term.  A strange band name.  A performance that…bombed?  Or was “the bomb”?  Or something else that I’m just not hip enough to get?

I work in the music industry, see.  I didn’t think there was a show going down in Boston, but figured that someone bringing up a new band was a lot more likely than an actual bomb going off at the Boston Marathon.

I was wrong.

It didn’t take long to figure out what happened. I streamed the live coverage as my mind combed through the usual comforts: Pay attention to the helpers.  Thank goodness this isn’t government-sponsored violence.  Look at those service men and women helping to clear the streets.  I’m glad stuff like this is rare enough to demand such outrage.  #PrayforBoston is trending on twitter.  The love outweighs the hate.  The extreme response shows how safe we normally are.

And, most selfishly (but genuinely): Glad I don’t know anyone in Boston. 

Optimistic, yes, but none of this was particularly comforting at the time.  Although my immediate reaction was overwhelming uncertainty (“How do I emotionally respond to this?”), a quick Google search of Washington DC brought it closer to home.  Sirens and SWAT teams were screaming down the streets, or so Twitter hyperbolically reported.  Pennsylvania Avenue was shut down. I had my first run in with the term “Heightened Terror Alert.”  It was business as usual in my office, but the word “Terror” tends to evoke…well, the feeling of terror.  There was “standard procedure” going on a few blocks away. In the wake of a bombing, “standard procedure” in the capital can look a little frightening.

DC in general has been a little frightening, at least for me.  The threats from North Korea successfully increased my heart rate on more than one occasion last month. I walked past a policeman carrying a massive gun today, and sped up in spite of myself.  I’m still getting used to the intensity of security guards on the way into museums.  The obvious necessity and fragility of a defense presence makes my stomach turn—especially when it’s not always enough to keep people safe.

Perhaps my background is a bit too docile to keep up with the high-security scene.  I watch action movies and kick-ass Terantino flicks like it’s my job, but the reality is that I’ve never even touched a glitter bomb.  I’ve never so much as shot a paintball gun.  I jump at the word “BOO!”, you guys. If we watch a horror movie together, I will clutch onto you like a leech.  And violence—real violence—is disturbing foreign territory to me.  (I’m very lucky for this, I know.)

It’s surprising that, spooked little horse that I am, I responded to the Boston Marathon Bombings with so much resolve.  But I did.  A lot of us did.  We said a prayer, called our mothers, and kept on going.

At dinner last night, a friend shared how scared she was coming home from work.  The bombing brutality was tumbling through her brain, and the enclosed and busy Metro was cause for concern.  Fair enough, I figured.  But that wasn’t what I said. Instead, like an overzealous talk-show host, I found myself telling her “I feel you, but…we can’t let the terror to get the best of us.  Because if it does, then “they” win. And “they” can’t win. People who want to hurt other people can’t win.  Fear can’t win.”

I’m sure I was much less articulate, but that was the sentiment.  My friends, despite our usual political and ideological differences, nodded in rare approval. She agreed, too. You can’t psychologically torture a whole country, can you?  Let’s not make it so easy.

Events like the Boston Marathon bombings will undoubtedly disrupt our ideas of humanity, life, security, and business-as-usual.  The intense response here in DC reminded me that while this country (and its cities) are magnificent, even they are vulnerable–because everything and everyone is vulnerable, no matter what.

My raised-by-Disney heart fears the “bad guys” and cheers for “good guys.”  It always will. But my adult heart, ridden with reality-checks, is beating in time with the rest of the so-called “normal people.”  The scared but proud people—people with good sides, and with not-so-good sides, but with families and fates and feeling hearts.  Folks who are mostly not okay with people hurting other people.

The fact that this is my definition of “normal” gives me hope. The fact that this bombing does not seem “normal” gives me hope.

We are fragile, mortal, reactive, aware, sensitive—but we should not be afraid.