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?