Home » Uncategorized » It’s all in your head (except for the bits that aren’t)

It’s all in your head (except for the bits that aren’t)

We went to see Star Trek Into Darkness recently (fun nonsense but far too many fan references for me, I just found them distracting) and were forced to sit through the trailer for the new Will Smith movie After Earth. It looks a load of tosh, but that was not what struck me at the time.
The tag line for the movie appears to be “Danger is real, Fear is a choice”. It has got me thinking about fear and how much it increasingly dominates our life. Cue this week’s ramble.
I consider myself pretty lucky that I have not found anything yet that terrifies me out of my wits. By that I mean that kind of paralyzing fear that just stops you in your tracks and means you cannot do anything other than possibly scream or whimper. Instead I seem to have a low grade wariness of many things; I don’t like the dark (too much imagination + dark = monsters), I am not a fan of spiders and I am not too keen on heights or enclosed spaces. But I can cope with them better than some people I know, including people very dear to me. The bruise on my arm from being gripped by my dear wife on a high platform at Barnard Castle lasted for quite a while. But I think I understand why some of these things can scare people, although I’m still not sure how people can be scared of mice. Mice are just cute (although I don’t want them in my house, before you say anything. But then I don’t want ducks in my house either and I really will be amazed if anyone is afraid of ducks. Or penguins or bunnies for that matter… It’s the twitchy noses, you see… Incidentally there is a 1970s horror movie called Night of the Lepus which is about giant killer rabbits, but I don’t think The Ducks of Doom has been made yet.)
I think a lot of phobias are like a virus that we pass onto each other when we are young. Some fears I think are deep and primal. The dark is threatening because there may well be someone or something out there waiting to get you – if not now, certainly there were in our ancestry. Also, I can easily see how not wanting to be looking over the edge of a tall building can be something that might appeal. For others it is less obvious, but there is reasonable evidence to show we infect each other and our parents have a huge influence in what scares us. This makes perfect sense really. If you as a little child see your mother or father (who, as you recall can do anything and are infallible for the early years of your life) leap, screaming, onto a chair as a tiny spider walks past then even unconsciously you will probably be chair jumping yourself in later life at the sight of some poor little arachnid.
Is it important? I think it is. It struck me that we have a responsibility not to screw up the next generation by passing on our fears to them, and we are increasingly doing that with the risk adverse nature attitude which is becoming increasingly prevalent.
Now – to be clear – as Mr Smith’s movie tagline says, danger is real. One of the basic principles I had to get around in terms of my work is to understand the difference between hazards and risks. A hungry lion is a known and clear hazard. If I am in a small room with said lion then the risk to me is high. But if the lion is in a nice sturdy cage (in the same small room) and I am outside the cage, the risk to me is minimal. But the lion is still the same hungry feline he was in the original scenario. We can be around danger and not come to harm if we can try and control the risks.
So when I was helping a nervous young girl climb over rocks at the sea side as I was the other week, I should be pointing out the bits of rock that are particularly slippy so she can take special care climbing on them or avoid if she can. But I shouldn’t scream at her how dangerous it is and use lots of verbal exclamation marks, or she’ll react as if she is walking on burning coals. Keep calm, learn to judge risks better (that probably means you have to do some research and understand your limitations, but that’s not a bad thing) and go out and enjoy life more. After all, you don’t want to be stuck inside afraid of everything. After all, inside is where all the spiders are waiting for you.

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