I talk to a lot of people a lot of the time and mostly I enjoy it. But sometimes these conversations leave me troubled. Because they’re about fear. About how dangerous a place the world can be. Travel is dangerous because foreigners might kill you. Food is dangerous because, well, you could get sick. Or maybe you just won’t like it, which for some people, is just as scary.
And I try to say that, no, actually, the world is not that dangerous, that people the world over are basically good and kind and will look out for you if you get into trouble. Alan and I ran a bed and breakfast for eight years, letting total strangers come into our home and spend the night. And not once were we robbed or kidnapped or killed.
People are good and food, well, is to be enjoyed. Period.
I say these things and I get looked at like I can’t possibly know what I’m talking about and we just reach an impasse because I know I can’t change their thinking and I certainly don’t want to change mine.
Have these people been attacked, mugged, robbed on their foreign travels? Nope. Have they ever nearly died of food poisoning? No again. They just worried about it. They read a story somewhere and remembered a time when they were in a situation that could maybe have led to them having Bad Things happen. They worried. And continue to worry. And they let that worry build into a fear that thickens around them, making their world smaller and smaller and smaller.
I’m not saying that the world is completely safe and bad things never happen. I know that’s not true. Disaster strikes. Or it doesn’t. And you can either be afraid, or you can stay open to life.
I know that terrible things have happened to perfectly wonderful people and that is awful. But it’s also rare.
There was a time that I allowed fear to rule my life. I could not be at home without the doors being locked. Travel was beyond me. New people or experiences were to be avoided.
And one night our house was broken into. Very scary stuff, for sure (we were home asleep at the time). The person who broke in realized we were there and left in a hurry. The police were called. They checked the basement for me before they left.
And as I was allowing my fear to ratchet completely out of control (“We have to sell the house!”) Alan soothed me by pointing out that most people get through their entire lives without ever having their house broken into. He dazzled me with statistics and said that chances were overwhelming that this would never happen to us again.
I took a deep breath and thought, “Dammit I hate it when he’s right.”
We still lock the doors when we go out. But I’m much more comfortable at home by myself. I take chances with talking to new people and trying new foods. And with every risk taken, I think my life gets a little bigger.
It’s so easy to fall into fear. It’s one of the few feelings that people feel they need allies in. Happy people will go on being happy whether you’re happy along with them or not.
Sadness often prefers to be alone while it sorts itself out.
But fear? Those who feel it need you to feel it, too. Lock your doors, they’ll tell you, it’s not safe here. Check the weather before you hit the road, I hear there’s a storm approaching. They post warnings on Facebook to look out for the suspected criminal who was last seen a hundred miles away.
Fear spreads. But you are under no obligation to be afraid of the things that scare your friends and loved ones. You owe it to no one to buy into the fears of your government, religious affiliations or favourite news source.
This bothers a lot of people, but it doesn’t need to bother you. Our demons are our own and keeping them quiet means that you really don’t need to give any thought to quelling the demons of others.
Be sensible, by all means. Know the limits of your own capacity, definitely. But challenge the fears that would keep you small.
Unless you don’t want to. It’s really up to you.
I know I prefer fearlessness. I prefer a life of risk and adventure that, yes, may be cut short during one of those adventures.
But it sure beats leading a narrow, constrained life.