Tuesday, July 22, 2008

The Meaning of Fear

Fear, as defined by Dictionary.com, is “a distressing emotion aroused by impending danger, evil, pain, etc., whether the threat is real or imagined; the feeling or condition of being afraid”.

In small amounts, fear keeps us alive. Keeps us from being eaten by the tiger outside our ancestral caves, keeps us close to the fires that serve as protection from the wild animals. In large amounts, fear paralyzes.

In our everyday world, most people don’t have the problem of dangerous animals running up and down the grocery store isles. The most physical danger we face is from other people. Or as one writer put it, “The Most Dangerous Game”. Richard Connell wrote the story and from what I recall it involved one man hunting another man for sport. Most dangerous game indeed. A prey who can think and strategize and possibly defeat the predator.

In our day and age, we still face the most dangerous of predators--human beings. Whether the game takes place in Iaq, Afghanistan, the Middle East, Africa, South America--anywhere on the planet. Any city, town, village, hamlet, shoot.. even two people living two miles from each other in the middle of nowhere can be a danger to each other.

I believe, under the “right” circumstances, anyone can become a killer. If you are threatened by a thug, or someone who supposedly cares for you, with a knife or a gun suddenly everything is on the table.

I would not stand by and let someone kill me or attack me. As far as I am concerned, anyone who threatens me either verbally or physically is someone who needs to be dealt with. Verbal threats can escalate to physical threats. But being a reasonable human being, I have to decide if the person threatening me is a true threat to my health and/or life.

Like a lot of people, and probably women in particular, I have the “deer caught in the headlights” syndrome. Something threatens me, and I freeze. Unable to move, unable to react. Literally rooted to the ground. And I wonder if this has anything to do with lack of training. I mean, if you’ve never been attacked, how will you know what you will do?

I’ve heard that if you take self-defense courses and practice the moves, that in a real emergency you will automatically be able to defend yourself. Without any or little paralysis.

So, fear can motivate you to do good things for yourself, like taking a self-defense course, or losing weight and getting in shape, or not taking that shortcut through a dark alley at midnight. But fear can immobilize you and leave you vulnerable to emotional/verbal/physical attacks.

Examine your fears, ask if any of your fears can help you to do something positive. Are your fears justifiable or do you tend to exaggerate negative feelings? Through what lens do you view the world? If your lens is skewed, then get help to see things more realistically. For realistic fears, think about what you would do if threatened--think of all avenues open to you to deal with different threats. Go take that self-defense course. Do something to alleviate your fears. You need to have options. In any situation. Give yourself OPTIONS.

I think Winston Churchill said, “We have nothing to fear but fear itself.” And it’s true--arm yourself with knowledge and tactics to effectively manage your fears. I don’t think it’s possible to totally eliminate your fears but you can use them to your advantage.

Friday, July 18, 2008

Plant your Feet on the Cement Everyday

I think, like a number of writers, I tend to live in my head when I’m not in my favorite coffee shop studying people, their gestures and habits. And occasionally overhearing their conversations. (Honestly, I don’t do the last on purpose. Really.) And living in my head, for me, seems to consist of hiding out in my home. I justify this by saying, “I have to do some more networking/writing/plotting/come up with new story ideas/clean the office, kitchen, bathrooms’, whatever ad nauseam.

But someone I know brought up a very good point: I have to plant my feet outside my home on the cement sidewalk / grass lawn on a daily basis and let the world touch me. Let the world into my head so that I don’t rattle around in there all by myself.

Don’t get me wrong--I’m not a hermit. I speak to my family. I go out with friends regularly, I go to my writers meetings, I interact with people on a daily basis (even if it is the barista at Starbucks or the concierge in my building) and I take time to enjoy myself.

I recently started toting my camera with me whenever I go out. In the city, sometimes we have smog alerts and while this is a bad thing for people and the environment, it makes for great photographs with misty, moody shots. And it connects me to my community.

So even if one is on their own, one is not really alone unless one doesn’t make an effort to reach out. I am surrounded by people. I am involved with my community, my family, my friends and the people in the coffee shop (even if they don’t know it ;)).

So go out, plant your feet on the cement and meet yourself and your world.

Sunday, July 13, 2008

What does "no" mean?

There isn’t a person on this planet, who at some point (or in my case, many points) hasn’t been told “No”. No, you can’t stay up late.No, you can’t have that toy. No, you are smart enough. No you’re not good enough. No, you’re not sexy enough. No, you are not worth IT.

And the surprising thing? Most of those “nos” are said to us by those people who claim to care for us. They claim they want to protect us from something. And they may be telling you the truth--at least as far as they are able to do so.

The word ‘no’ in and of itself is not necessarily a bad thing. No, you can’t jump off that building. No, you can’t kill another person. The laws of your country are generally for your protection if you live in a democracy. Laws make it possible to live together in society without the society dissolving into chaos and anarchy. If you don’t live in a democracy, that’s a whole other discussion.

As children growing up, hopefully our parents were at least cognizant of the fact that children need a certain amount of freedom, mixed in with a certain amount of control, in order to become full-fledged human beings. But people are not perfect, parenting is never perfect and things happen even with the best of intentions.

As adults, we need to recognize the reasoning behind the ‘no’ responses we receive. Is the authority figure (the one saying no) able to evaluate the situation logically and rationally? Does the authority figure have an agenda of which you are unaware? Does the authority figure have a self-esteem problem and says no to get a rush of self-worth because they can (or want to) control you? Is this figure a bully, either physically, mentally or emotionally? Is this person a threat to you in some way? Does this person just not care about you or is this person a stranger to you?

If you are a reasonable, sane person who is not a sociopath, it is more important to evaluate the ‘no’ in terms of what you are trying to accomplish. ‘No’ may mean I don’t agree with your reasoning and why don’t you try another tact.

For me, ‘no’ is an invitation to explore and evaluate my requirements, methods, needs, wants and desires. Just because someone tells me ‘no’ does not mean that I cannot move forward. It may mean having to side-step around an obstacle. Whether or not that obstacle means changing me is not important, as long as I know what the problem is. If I know what the problem is and I want to fix it, then I can fix it. Or if I’m not able to fix it, then I’ll find someone who can fix it.

Too many people give their power away to others without a fight. Without a thought. “Oh he said it so it must be true.” “I am really too stupid to know any better, so someone else should make the decision.”

Bottom line? Take responsibility for yourself. Trust yourself. Trust your instincts and intuitions. You may let yourself down, but at least you know to whom to attribute the success or failure of your venture.

“No”, in most cases, is an opinion, not a decree.