You may not want to accept the fact. It’s not the ONLY thing that defines you, but it does define you.
Notice the little things that motivate your behavior. There is a reason everyone is familiar with the carrot/stick metaphor. We DO things either out of desire or fear. Both define us because fear and desire are the two prime motives for thoughts that lead to action.
Many years ago, I received a piece of advice that stuck. “Never run away from things you fear or dislike, only toward things you want.” In the context of career advice, it made sense. When we react out of fear or negative feelings, we are apt to make knee-jerk, thoughtless moves that are self-destructive, leading nowhere positive. Moving toward positive goals is generally the course that results in a steady, upward climb.
You have probably heard similar advice. Having learned to reject fear, we try to reject the notion that we might be motivated by it. Pride says, “fear and negative emotions don’t drive me”. Don’t kid yourself. It’s there. Sometimes for good reason. Thank God, most people have the sense to move away from a rattling snake.
We fear things we don’t know. Recently, I attended a meeting where a bright, aggressive young attorney at the top of his game was directing the discussion. Suddenly, he stopped in mid-sentence to warn me that a tiny spider had strolled across my shoulder and disappeared behind my back. I shrugged. “I guess I’m part of its habitat.” Later I thought, how interesting that a guy with so much self-confidence in his world would be freaked out by a tiny spider. Apparently spiders don’t live in his world. They do in mine, and I hardly give them a second thought.
Today, I mentioned to my friend, Joe, that I’m writing about fear. Joe doesn’t live in the attorney’s world. I’ve never seen Joe in a suit. His world is horses, dogs, hunting or trapping raccoons in the back woods of the Cumberland Plateau. He grew up with critters of all kinds, knows them intimately and is their master. There’s not much in the outdoors that he’s afraid of. But Joe acknowledged that he would crumble if he had to leave his world for my other friend, the attorney’s. He acknowledged that everyone must deal with fear. Then he proceeded to tell me how his rugged father had taught him at a young age to deal with fear.
Near their home was the remains of an old strip mine, with a deep, blue-hole pond, maybe ninety feet deep. Joe’s family was dirt poor, so a swim in the blue hole was a good substitute for a bath. At a very young age, his Dad brought him to a cliff above the edge of the pond, dove in and swam to a rock in the center, where he climbed out to sun himself. Calling back to Joe, he commanded him to jump in and swim to him. Joe cried, “Daddy, I don’t know how to swim. I’m scared.” The gruff reply came, “Do you think I would let you drown? Leave your fear in the mud and get over here!” Trusting in his father, he leaped in, flailing like a puppy and found that he could, in fact swim. By focusing on reaching the rock where Dad was, he managed to leave his fear in the mud. “That’s how I learned to swim”, Joe beamed.
“But, you know, fear will kill you”, he said. “If you tense up, you drown”.
“Absolutely! I know that’s true”, I responded. I used to surf some good-sized waves on Oahu’s famous North Shore. A wipe-out can feel like you’re being tumbled in a monstrous washing machine where you have no idea which way is up. I learned early on to just relax. The wave soon passes. Then it’s usually easy to get to the surface to get a gulp of air. Sometimes you barely get a breath before being pummeled again by the next wave. Relax and go limp again. It too will pass. But if you panic, you waste valuable strength and oxygen. Fear will literally kill you. Or, it can kill the joy of life. It could have kept me from surfing, the one thing I enjoyed more than anything else.
Banzai Pipeline during competition on the North Shore of Oahu,Hawaii. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
Surfing large waves, it’s not just the fear of drowning that can kill you. At the point of take-off, you paddle to match the speed of the wave. Suddenly the bottom drops out and there is a moment of decision. Take one more quick stroke, commit, jump to your feet and drive down the face of the vertical wave . . . or pull back if your take-off is too late and too critical. Hesitate at the moment of decision and you’re likely to free-fall and be eaten by the wave. At a powerful break like Hawaii’s pipeline, that could mean an encounter with a razor-sharp coral head, just inches below the surface followed by tons of crashing, churning water. Is there fear? Hell, yes! Manage it. It’s all in the mind-set. Picture yourself driving hard down the face of the wave toward an exhilarating bottom turn. Take that last stroke with confidence and power. Allow yourself to think of free-falling, out of control? Fear, hesitation, panic and an over-the falls experience are sure to follow.
In situations where fear is a natural reaction, ignoring or denying it doesn’t change the fact that it’s there. You can’t manage something that you won’t acknowledge exists.
A few years ago, I witnessed a subtle, yet extreme example of denial. I was speaking to a group of preppers who were interested in joining a bug-out colony. Incidentally, the Village on Sewanee Creek is not a “bug-out colony”. I prefer to think of it as more of a “bug-in community” where long-term commitment to building a better, more self-reliant life replaces fear. I started my talk with an observation that attendees had probably come out of fear. One of the group took offense and became animated, even angry. His point, “I am motivated entirely out of positive desires to protect my family. Because I am prepared, I am fearless and calm in the face of danger.” His anger was telling. Turns out, he had a small business selling survival food storage items. None of us wants to think that we are motivated by fear. He ended his rant by observing that people don’t buy out of fear. A positive sales approach is more effective. And, of course, he was right. But, underlying the rant were two kinds of fear in the room.
First, it was clear from the discussion that followed, that these would-be preppers were petrified of a world they saw disintegrating around them. They looked forward to poverty, famine, social chaos, roving gangs of rioting thieves, cataclysmic climate change, tyranny, nuclear war, EMP’s, chem-trails, UFO’s, TEOTWAWKI and a myriad of other real or imagined threats. And they were seeking the safety of “like-minded” people who would band together in a time of crisis for protection. Tell me again that the prime motive was not fear? Give me a break!
There was a second, more subtle, insidious kind of fear demonstrated that day. Peering through the vigorous denial, was a palpable fear of fear itself. I had called a spade a spade and was prepared to talk about it, reveal it and deal with it. The objecting man was afraid that he might lose sales if the topic turned to fear. Fear runs deep, denied or unnoticed. Even when we project our most confident, happy selves, there are legitimate things to fear, to avoid. When anger or other negative emotions bubble to the surface, fear often lurks in the depths of the soul.
As for me, I freely admit that, like the crowd I spoke to that day, there have been times when, absorbed in thoughts of what is wrong with this world, I have stared petrified down the vertical face of a violent wave as the bottom drops out of my deepest fears. But as I visualize myself taking control and driving to a better place, fear evaporates, turning into an adrenaline rush. That is the essence of my quest to become self-sufficient, independent of things that go bump in the night. Better still, when I learn new skills, conquer new, unfamiliar worlds and open myself to creative expression, I am exhilarated by a sense of well-being and oneness with the natural world that God created and intended for me to enjoy.