Now that we seem to have this current Covid-19 epidemic under control it seems like an appropriate time to reflect on the power of fear. Fear comes in many flavors but altimetry leads us back to the suffering we have experienced before or the suffering we “may” yet endure. In the case of the repeated suffering and our fear to endure it again, we can have an understanding of why we would fear those events. Something has caused us pain and suffering in the past and we are fearful of experiencing it again. In the case of the fear of the unknown which a-lot of fear is based on, most will agree after examination through the lenses of logic and reason our fears seem irrational. The purpose of this is not the cast aspersions on people’s fears or reactions but to simply illustrate why we may react to fear the way we do.
“By replacing fear of the unknown with curiosity we open ourselves up to an infinite stream of possibility. We can let fear rule our lives or we can become childlike with curiosity, pushing our boundaries, leaping out of our comfort zones, and accepting what life puts before us.” — Alan Watts
Most people I have known or worked with seem to experience fear of the unknown variety, not understanding a certain situation or thing makes them take a step back and that is a good thing!
What we do after that step back determines if our response is rational or irrational.
We are conditioned or neuro-programed to respond to the unknown with a pause. Think of primitive man hearing a bump in the night. First, he is startled and during that time rolling around in his brainpan are ideas of what caused the noise and what his defensive reactions could be to it. You’ll notice that is a two-step reaction.
In between those two things, there is that pause we spoke about and in that pause, there is an opportunity to insert fear. In our not so distant past the length of the pause in some cases would have separated the ones who survived and the ones that were dragged away by whatever creature had caused the bump in the night.
These reactions albeit with considerably reduced consequences can be seen in sporting events today.
The reduced pause or reaction time of a player like Tom Brady is what separates him from his competition. Without that suppression of fear, he would be on his back after every snap of the football. Another example would be Alex Honnold who became famous for his free solo of El Capitan. I can remember seeing this film at the Tampa Theater, a grand turn of the century movie theater. The place was packed the evening I saw the film and in the audience, you could hear the tension in people’s reactions to his famous climb free of ropes projected on the screen. Alex had done extensive and exhaustive physical research on his chosen task so he was able to reduce his fear to what he considered expectable. In interviews he talks about overcoming his fear concerning the mountains he climbs by being curious, pushing his preserved boundaries and looking at it through the lens of a problem that can be solved.
So why is it that some can push through that pause and get onto the business of doing and others are stuck there. The reason lies in the example of the two athletes we just spoke about. Both Tom Brady, and Alex Honnold do prepare through researching and practicing until they feel comfortable. Then they practice more so they know it well enough to be confident even under stress.
Now, this seems all well and good for athletes who make their living doing this but what about the rest of us who were scared to leave our house because of this epidemic. The same rules still apply. You need to research what you fear so that you understand it better. Then you can see the risks for what they are and not what the media or entertainment is telling you. Watching the news and trying to understand a complex problem is like reading comic books to try and understand geopolitics, it’s just a waste of your time. When trying to understand a problem to be solved you need to look for experts in the field and see what it is that their research has deduced, which means looking at what is available in writing. After spending time looking at a myriad of sources look at them again and make sure you are viewing them with an unbiased eye. Then apply logic, look for sensible solutions to your unique situation, remember not everyone’s is the same. Once you have done this and are comfortable with your findings you may want to run it by your peer group for a review of your findings and another unbiased eye. Remember any decisions done in a vacuum tends to fail on the first contact with the enemy.
When you have come up with a solution put it into practice, remember no solution is going to be perfect and fit all applications so be ready to readjust when needed. An 80% solution put into practice is better than 100% solution that never makes it out of committee.