Fear. I’ve been thinking a lot about it lately and discussing it with clients and friends. When is fear healthy? When is it helpful? And what about the rest of the time? What I’ve come up with is that on its own fear is neither helpful nor particularly healthy. Now, when fear is triggered by DANGER, that’s different. It can save my life. And yours too. And that is indeed pretty darn healthy. But on its own, fear just holds me back. Because fear is in my head. It resides inside of me and it isn’t real. It can’t actually cause me a speck of harm. Danger, on the other hand, resides outside of me. It does pose a threat to me. It can cause me harm. Danger is real.
So take my hike into rattle snake country the other day. Several friends asked me why I went if I was so scared. They know I’m really, really afraid of snakes. Even those that are very small and non-poisonous. Now, I’ve never had a dangerous encounter with a snake. Nor have I personally known anyone who has. This fear lies completely in my head. Of course in the case of the rattle snakes there was actually some real danger. That’s why I called Ranger Mike. I got the facts. Had he told me that the Timber Rattlers of the Adirondacks were vicious and aggressive and had he listed the number of bites and related fatalities this season alone, I would have stayed right at home that day. But the truth of the situation was that even though fairly large, poisonous snakes resided in the region I was headed into, they didn’t pose much of a threat to me at all. According to my trusted and expert source, the situation rated pretty low on the danger scale.
My fears were big. But the danger risk was small. Very small. So, with the facts in hand, I had a choice. A few, in fact. I could have just listened to my scared-of-snakes self and stayed home. Or, I could have gone on the hike and carried my fears with me, jumping at every winding root along the trail, keeping off the summit stones and not enjoying the expansive views. To me, these choices weren’t very healthy because they would both be based on my irrational and oppressive fears. But I had another option. I could cradle my fears in the knowledge of the actual dangers. I could let the facts dwarf the fears; compartmentalize them. To me, that was the healthiest thing to do. Certainly the most fun of the options. With the knowledge of the dangers in hand, I chose expansive views, good conversation, fresh air, exercise, and Belgian chocolate over the slithering fears in my head.