When you were a child, did you believe in ghosts? Were you frightened by 'strange' sounds in the night? If so, the fear you experienced was real. So were the physical effects: a dry mouth, a racing heart, and perspiration. Yet, your fear owed its existence to something unreal. Your fear, like the ghost you were frightened of, was nothing more than a phantom. It was nothing more than an illusion. It had no substance; it was nothing more than a feeling. The dreadful thing you feared existed only in your imagination. You can be excused for acting like a child when you were a child.
But how can we excuse adults who abandon their dreams, abdicate their reason, and destroy their happiness by being mired in fear, anxiety, and worry? Take Joanne, for example. She confided to me that she was afraid her company was preparing to downsize and she might lose her job. Six months ago her company held a general meeting and announced pay cuts of 8% and a 4% reduction in its contribution to the pension fund. For six months Joanne worried that this was the beginning of the end, that downsizing was sure to follow. Her fears robbed her of her usual enthusiasm, resulted in some restless nights, made her irritable, and sapped her energy.
Now she was alarmed. "There is an unusual flurry of activity at the office," she explained to me three weeks ago. "My boss and other department heads are meeting behind closed doors daily with the Chief Financial Officer." This went on for two weeks. Rumors were flying and morale was low. Now at last, there was proof that something was in the works, for at the end of two weeks of meetings, the company announced that there was a general meeting scheduled for the following week.
I met her on the day of the general meeting. She was no longer looking distraught. In fact, she was beaming as she explained, "The company has ended our 8% pay cut and is increasing their contribution to our pension fund to the previous level." Imagine, six months of anguish, all for naught. Have you ever had a similar experience? How many of your present fears and worries will never come to pass? Or, if they do, will have far less significance than you now imagine? Isn't it time for us to stop believing in ghosts?
My car is parked in my driveway, just ten feet below my bedroom window. Imagine my surprise, a year ago, when I discovered I forgot to lock the door of the car and someone had attempted to steal it. Just ten feet from where I was sleeping, a stranger was in my car, jamming a hairpin or something into the ignition, hoping to start the car! They were unsuccessful. The key to my car would no longer fit into the ignition; so I had to have it towed and repaired. Of course, I wasn't happy about the extra expense and inconvenience, but I WAS HAPPY that my car wasn't stolen and had only minor damage.
When similar events happen to some people, they feel vulnerable and violated. They feel a painful loss of security. They feel threatened. They are afraid they may become victims again. They live with fear and discomfort. Is that any way to live? Isn't it amazing what a difference the interpretation of events can make in our lives? Instead of feeling despondent because I was a victim, I chose to marvel at the fact that so little harm has come my way. I also accept the frailties of human nature, understanding that we live among thieves and criminals. For most of us, the good we experience far exceeds the bad, so there is no justification for living a life of fear.
Like despair, defeat, anxiety, worry, self-pity, and hopelessness, fear is a habit. If we have the power to imagine all kinds of terrible things that will befall us, we also have the power to imagine overcoming every difficulty we face. Why not change the negative habit of fear into the positive habits of hope, confidence, and exuberance? Besides, fear can be beautiful. How could you experience the exhilaration of a 'death-defying' roller coaster ride unless you first experienced fear? The more we fear a particular task or situation, the greater the triumph in overcoming it. So, in truth, fear is nothing to fear. It is just a promise of great personal achievement for those who overcome it.
There comes a time in life when we have to put our foot down and say, "I'm not going to give in to fear any more! Despite the lump in my throat, the tremor in my voice, and the churning in my stomach, I am going to do what I believe is right." Besides changing lives, a simple decision such as that can change the world. An example of such a story follows.
In the 50's, the southern part of the United States was still segregated. In, Montgomery, Alabama, the first ten seats in all buses were reserved for whites. Even if they were unoccupied, blacks could not use them. On the other hand, if all the white-only seats were occupied and more whites boarded the bus, blacks were forced to give up their seats to the whites. On December 1, 1955, Rosa Parks, a black woman seated in the first row of the black section, was asked by the bus driver to give up her seat to a white person who just boarded the bus. Rosa Parks decided not to give in to fear and intimidation and not to give up her seat. As a result, she was promptly arrested. The blacks in Montgomery rallied to her cause and boycotted the bus line for more than a year. This event led to the birth of the American Civil Rights Movement and the rise of Martin Luther King Jr.
The refusal of Rosa Parks, and those who followed her, to give in to fear led to their liberation. Similarly, our refusal to give in to our fears will lead to our liberation. When immersed in fear, we need to separate ourselves from it. Just because we are afraid, it doesn't mean that we are in danger. Just because we are scared, it doesn't mean we are not smart enough, good enough, or strong enough to overcome our fears. We need to step back and analyze what's troubling us. Fear resides in the primitive part of our brain. Once we switch to analytical thinking, we disengage from it and weaken its hold on us. Fear increasingly diminishes as we study our options, make plans, and take action.
Henry Ford (1863 ~ 1947) describes one of life's magnificent rewards, "One of the greatest discoveries a man makes, one of his great surprises, is to find he can do what he was afraid he couldn't do." Don't miss this great opportunity to discover the excitement life brings when we face our fears. Also, every time you feel fearful, remember that those around you have their own fears. So, keep a watchful eye on them and lighten their burden whenever you can by offering them encouragement.
© Chuck Gallozzi
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