Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Fear: friend or foe

On the surface it may seem like a good idea to have no fear. But what I am wondering today… is there a time and place for fear? I’m not talking about the unhealthy fear that paralyzes and abuses people. I am not talking about fear-mongering. The kind of fear I am wondering about is the kind of fear that keeps a child from putting his hand on the hot stove burner. The kind of fear that keeps most individuals from walking out into rush-hour traffic. The kind of fear that is the beginning of wisdom.
Wisdom? Hmm…
It seems to have been the case that during my work with young people through the years — one thing that seems to be glaringly missing is a healthy fear of any consequences. I am not that old. But I do remember when I was growing up, for the most part, young people had respect for most adults in their world and a healthy fear of consequences. This does not seem to be the case these days. I have seen good parents at their wits end wondering how to communicate to their children the importance of boundaries and consequences. Note: consequences do not equal punishment. Every action and inaction comes with both positive and negative consequences.
What is the answer? I am not sure. Because I have seen many adults attempt to instill a sense of boundaries and consequences into their young people to no avail. I guess on some level, they will eventually learn their own lessons when the negative consequences eventually outweigh the short term positive rewards. Or not! See? No easy answers.
I once heard somewhere that the only fear we are born with is the fear of falling, and all other fears are learned. If that is the case, what does that mean in the context of the apparent fact that so many individuals just seem to have no fear — regardless of how authority figures in their world may have tried to teach boundaries or healthy fear and understanding of consequences? Is this apparent “lack of fear” simply a cost/benefit analysis situation for those individuals? Is it that many see the immediate positive consequences outweighing the pending (possible) negative consequences?
Fear: friend or foe–
It is the degree of fear perceived that lends fear to this emotion and makes it frightening. You have heard of people getting paralyzed by it, but sometimes it is this very emotion which propels others to spring to action and meet deadlines.
This emotion, like a habit good or bad, can be put to constructive or destructive use. It can both facilitate and debilitate, evoke both positive and negative reactions.
I admit that I used to bristle at the thought that “fear was the beginning of wisdom” because so many people inflict fear for abusive reasons. However, on one occasion I had this concept re-framed for me. One day my partner attended church with me. She does not espouse the faith that I do, but sometimes differences can bring an unexpected clarity.
As it has been many times over the years, the concept of “fear is the beginning of wisdom” was noted in that church setting on that given day. My partner leaned over and said “Yeah, I get that. I fear that if I treat you like shit you will leave me.”
So fear can be the beginning of wisdom.