Sep 102011

Fear is a reactive experience that serves to provide the necessary body chemicals to effectively manage a survival situation. If you see a bear, your body equips you well to run like hell from it. If you are on the edge of a cliff, your body nicely paralyzes you from trotting over it. If a big scary man drooling pus demands your wallet, your body appropriately instructs you to give him whatever he wants and get away from him. But fear with no apparent actions of resolution graduates to, well, manic anxiety.. And that, I’m afraid, is an enormous problem.

Imagine, if you will, being out in the wilderness with a small group of people and being informed that one of them is possibly going to kill you. You are encouraged to witness everyone with a bit of suspicion, and indeed, everyone else is witnessing you the same way.  Imagine that at different points along the trail, one or a few of you is pulled out and searched by armed and uniformed soldiers with latex gloves on, every possession toyed with for its potential as weaponry. Imagine that just as you start to relax, there is another sign reminding you that there is a good chance you will be attacked, today it is a heightened chance, and the person that will do it is already amongst you. You dare not set down your pack. You dare not speak to another hiker. You dare not appear alone or unusual. You will get searched again and everyone will watch you. And you will watch them. You are fully expected to complete and enjoy this trip with a constant awareness of this potential obliteration.

After a truly lovely six months in Scotland,  I arrived back in the United States via New York City where I still am today  and I have to say that I had completely forgotten about how much constant danger Americans are in. I couldn’t forget for long though, because every day in New York City is filled with reminders of it, via loudspeakers, posters, police presence, and pretty much all media. Someone will steal from you, sexually assault you, place an explosive on the train you are on.. You will be bankrupt, sick, jobless, homeless, and addicted to something. We are always on the precipice of some imminent doom and don’t forget it. And yet, there is nothing you can do about it. Just be afraid.

Being out in the wilderness by myself for extended periods of time has taught me a lot about fear. The primary way I have learned to manage it is to be acutely aware of fears that concern situations I could possibly control, and dismiss all others. Being afraid of what is not directly in front of you doesn’t make any sense. It’s not fear in that situation, it’s paranoia and anxiety. Why is it encouraged in our general population? Sure, horrible things could happen and sometimes they do. But we are, and we must face this, pretty damn safe for the most part in this time and place. No disrespect meant to any that have suffered, but is it okay if I just relax from the massive fear a bit?  Even in New York City?

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  4 Responses to “Minding The Fear”

  1. A great piece.

    We have just had the first of three Reith lectures over here from the head of our Intelligence Service (MI5) at the time of the 9/11 atrocities. Interestingly she advised our government against using the phrase “war on terror” coined by Bush and most of the American Media preferring instead to bring to justice those responsible for the criminal acts.

    Why didn’t our politicians pay heed to her opinions? “Governments do not do what the security services tell them,” she said. “Our job is to understand and advise. It is for government to make judgments.” She went on to say “It is always better to talk to the people who are attacking you then attacking them, if you can.”

    As you say, Kim, you can only deal with the fear that you can control. To sit down with and understand what the terrorist wants surely brings everyone a step closer to removing that fear.

    Good luck today – I hope your day over there goes well and without incident.

  2. Of course that quote should read ” “It is always better to talk to the people who are attacking you thAn attacking them, if you can.”

  3. God bless you Kim, for your wisdom and beauty. I think to how Norway responded to the atrocity there and instead see such a dignified, warm and lovingly appropriate response. People don’t tend to respond well to hatred and discrimination, although it buys the cheap seats temporarily; but there is a chance when understanding and compassion enter the arena.
    I feel proud of you and to be your friend.
    Go well today. H.

  4. Thank you Alan and Helen!! People are still very protective of their views on the attacks, how we responded, and how we continue to respond, with many emotions mixed in there. It’s difficult to express opposing perspectives…

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