Thursday, September 08, 2005

Habitual Fear

If we go by the principle that fear is that which we do not understand, then we should be afraid of a great many things. In a sense we are. The theory does hold water, but we must factor in experience lived as children.

By and large children are fearless, the younger the child, the more fearless. That is, until our environment teaches us to be. Falling down our first set of stairs for instance. Climbing headlong clear over the sofa. Sticking a screwdriver in the wall plug behind the TV in order to fix the TV. All these experiences, added to those lived by others, parents, friends, etc. make an impact on us.

When we grow older, things we don't understand will trigger an already established response of curiosity all the way through to unabated fear. Depends on the thing, of course, and our own history with something similar. If it's a formula akin to something we've already experienced, we will carry over the wariness we've developped. If it is completely new, two things may happen: one, we will unconsciously try to make an association with something already familiar, and two, we will make the wrong assumption!

The first step will either produce or alleviate fear, because something familiar does not remove the fear per se. There is a much debated discrepancy that exists between irrational and healthy fear. Healthy fear is using a branch shredder. It should be treated with respect and a given dose of healthy fear will ensure this.

The irrational fear is a pet peeve of mine, which brings us to the second point: wrong association.
For instance, many are afraid of guns. This is the epitomy of irrational. The healthy fear is having the firearm turn against us, like the branch shredder, it has the potential of causing bodily harm even death. This is a correct and valid association to make.

As with the branch shredder, the gun actually needs an operator. As opposed to the shredder, it needs an active operator. If you see even a picture of a shredder, or a farm combine, or a set of steak knives in the Sears catalogue, you don't have an instant revulsion to it, as so many would the firearm. The actual undebatable fact is that gun itself is a chunk of engineered metal, much as the other 3 examples. Glimpse the irrational yet?

This symbolism is powerful and can be a very useful tool, as we see the police whipping themselves up into a frenzy at the mere mention of a firearm. This is a healthy use of the lousy association. It is a reasonable assumption for them to make in order to somewhat guarantee their survival. The imponderable, however, always remains the sorry sod that has control of the firerarm and not the firearm itself, focusing on the firearm is simply expedient.

I don't want to dwell on the firearm issue, this will be in another blog.

The symbolism can also be destructive. In my last blog Lying, Fear and Light I wrote of my own problems with the basement for instance. It is healthy to be a little wary of my basement, but certainly complete idiocy to assume that monsters are the problem. Yet for years, terror ruled my actions.

How many more misguided symbolisms am I putting up with? Hard to tell. I solved a few that I was aware of. Rushing water, for instance stemmed from a vicious tumble I took at the beach when I was little. A wave surprised me and had me ass over end for what seemed an eternity. My fear of heights probably stems from my being a fraction of a second away from taking a dive down a 3 story set of ceramic stairs as my mom grabbed me. Her fear probably compound into me, but I don't know for sure. I may never know. It is gut wrenching though, so I know all about irrational fear and how uncontrollable it is. Now you know why it's a pet peeve.

There are many fears that are easily identifiable that simple dissociation would resolve. Often we don't take the time to reason it out, it's more expedient just to sit and be afraid. It avoids us from having to make an effort, or take a decision, or get out of our own way. I believe this to be the real source of the phrase "crippling fear".

Fight or flight is often used when discribing a natural instinctive reaction to danger. There is another: lock up. There have been numerous writings on this. One I found interesting had a person studying the floor map of his hotel to get out, during a fire alarm. His reaction was one of auditive cue turning into a visual response. This, in effect, locked him up. He survived because someone grabbed him and brought him to safety.

Logic so often goes out the window as soon as a frightful stimulus is imposed. This is why I believe irrate mothers are among the most dangerous of social vehicles. Their whole reason for being is to ward off dangers for their youngsters, and are therefore conditioned be afraid on their behalf. They do this for so long it becomes an ingrained habit. Is logic going to condition their behaviour? Not a snowball's chance in hell. This is reasonnable and has been effective for survival for centuries, if not more, albeit frustrating for the rest of us.

Like any habit, it is interesting to note that fear built up over some years will fundamentally change our beliefs. Not necessarily for the good, I might add. Compound irrational associations over just a few generations and you get shit like, well, racism for one.

As with any habit, a long hard look should be taken as to whether it is misguided; I started out by saying that we are afraid of what we don't understand. Now, given our habits, I also submit that we don't understand that of which we are afraid: we are afraid, by habit! Now doesn't that really suck?

But then, we can do something about it: we can change our habits.


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