by Thomas Day
A while back, one of our contributors listed a few of the things he was afraid of. One of the things he listed was flying. Another was helmet claustrophobia. I think spiders, snakes, girls, and clowns probably made the list, too.
Psychologists argue that the absence of fear is mental illness. The other possibility is physical or genetic damage to the portion of the brain called the “amygdala,” which is the section of the brain that generates the emotion we describe as fear. I have yet to meet a psychologist/psychiatrist who I would call “courageous,” so I’m only sort of buying into this analysis and classification. These are the same characters who invented a disease (AADD) to explain a lack of focus and poor self-discipline and who can’t convince 65% of the public that human beings have predictable animalistic responses to fight-or-flight situations or social pressures.
Personally, I despise all of my own phobias (and I have a list). While a fear factor might be a wonderful survival tactic, it is definitely a buzz-kill. Standing at the edge of a bridge strapped to a harness and 100’ bungee cable is a disgusting time to start evaluating your entertainment options. As a Kizinti (the alien species George Lucas ripped off, renamed “Wookie,” and domesticated in Star Bores) told Louis Wu, “All that is needed is to scream and leap.” After all, that’s how we invest in the stock market, housing, higher education, and it’s definitely how we choose our political “leaders.” If important stuff like that requires no more thought than we put into “would you like fries with that?” Why do we hesitate to fling our bodies into the void, especially with a perfectly good motorcycle under us and well-maintained roads to travel? It’s not like indecision is going to add anything valuable to your steering plans at the apex of a curve or when the motorcycle leaves the ground at the top of a whoop or a small hill. Do it. Scream and leap. Set your hair on fire and give it your best shot. These days, if you really screw it up you’ll probably end up a YouTube superstar. A small price to pay for you 1.5 seconds of excitement and at least 15 minutes of fame.
Seriously, I do believe that fears are meant to be overcome. Catering to phobias and cowardice is what makes you old before your time. I like the tactic of facing fears until they are beaten back into my subconscious.
Heights, for example. I suspect that most of us are a little shy about stepping on to a 20’ roof or out on to the Grand Canyon’s Infinity Bridge. We all, however, know that with reasonable caution there is very little about either of those “adventures” that qualifies as dangerous. So, most of us get on with the job and it doesn’t take long before altitude fades into the background. I used to do a little rock climbing and it always amazed me that on Day One I might find myself frozen 15’ above flat ground and a few days later I will be walking along the edge of a 300’ cliff without the slightest nervousness. Speed is another sensation we can adapt to fairly quickly. I’m not sure that is a good thing, but it’s true. When I take off for a long trip, sticking with freeway traffic sometimes seems like walking a knife edge. Two weeks later and I’m impatient when someone is “parked” in front of me a few miles-per-hour above the speed limit. [Not that I would ever, ever exceed the federally mandated speed limits when everyone else is doing their best to do multiples of that velocity.]
Fear is like guilt. Sometimes those emotions can keep us from doing things other people disapprove, but neither emotion produces a positive result. I can be made to conform to society’s low expectations, but I will resent it and that will come out in odd acts of rebellion that helps me maintain a balance of control. Fear will tell me to chicken out at the worst possible time, when going forward is almost guaranteed to be the right decision.
My favorite motorcycling example is when I screw up and enter a corner too hot. Unless there is a lot of run-out room, there is no place for braking in that situation. Once the bike is in a slide, there are even fewer options available. On dirt or gravel, this is where the fun begins. I’m less comfortable sliding on concrete or asphalt, but that’s due to cowardice and inexperience, not common sense. So that’s the fear I’m working on this summer, fear of sliding on paved surfaces. I’ll let you know how that works out, assuming I survive.