“You can learn wisdom at your grandfather’s feet, or at the end of a stick.” – Zulu proverb
We have been told over and over again not to have fears. But the reality is that we are all fearful. Every time a threat rears its head, we wrap so much of our thinking around it till it twists our psychology and we start being fearful. And when that fearful state is prolonged, we develop a phobia that affects our relationship with ourselves and with others. And the sad part is we are not often sure of the exactness of the threat, but we still descend into a worrying mentality with so many thoughts looping around themselves, starting to play at the same time inside our heads.
Psychologists say “fear is a natural emotion and a survival mechanism”. It is ignited when we confront a perceived or real threat, and our bodies respond to it in ways, which swell our emotions into an aching suspicion that there may be no immediate solution. This state of mind leads us to question whether there was a way to be and we did not become it; which in turn causes us to worry a little bit more than the usual. And since we do not know how to change to become ‘it’ in that moment, we feel doomed; we feel more like we have to do whatever it takes, whatever we assume best for ourselves without thought to consequences on the wider society. This is the illusion fear generates within us.
The story of fear is an endless effort to match the story of ourselves to threats we are not exactly sure of. Take the current case of fear trending on earth. We are not entirely sure of the reach of the threat of coronavirus, but it has altered our psychology as well as our physiology. On the intellectual level, we know there are existing diseases that are even deadlier – but because we are constantly being bombarded with information and misinformation about the virus, many of us have become hysterical about it. It is sad, but threats whether perceived or real spawn their own disease of misinformation. Even though they may be unfounded, we add these claims to our knowledge base; and this increases the risks in our behaviour, which may or may not aggravate a crisis.
Let me clearly state that I am not belittling the precautionary protocols that have been proposed by governments and organisations. My focus is on the mindless dread that has gripped the general populace. Left unchecked, fear – like the hairs on our head, grow with us. And the longer they go untended, the more they blend into our reality spiralling out of control; and like a merry-go-round, splinter into behaviours that are confusing. It was such behaviour that drove people to snatch and grab from shops and the markets when the lockdown was first announced. Fear has a way of making us fearful in anticipation of being afraid. And whenever reason tries to debate with fear, the latter always wins. Fear has an attitude of clouding our judgements on issues.
What should our response be when the prevailing atmosphere is fear? For starters, we need to appreciate that we are not so much in control of life as we often believe. As warm-blooded mammals, our essence is to adapt to circumstances whenever they arise without harm to ourselves. Fortunately, the logical steps being advised to curb spread of the contagion are about the same ones we need to overcome our fears. The call to stay indoors, unless to get essentials, is similar to taking time off to reflect on what to do next. Sadly, some among us think “life is precious, but money is more”, and so we keep ignoring this call. Being indoors challenges us to reflect and to creatively think-through issues to find solutions.
In fighting fear, we need to limit the amount of new information that trickles down to us to minimise misinformation. This is more like a call to keep social distance so that we are not infected. We have to appreciate social distancing as a healing retreat that energises us to be conscious of our immediate environs and our movements. And the call to wash our hands with soap as often as necessary serves as a call to check our thoughts; to question our beliefs as frequently as we swallow them. To wash with soap instead of merely washing means we have to check our facts about whatever information we receive. We are to strip them of emotions and focus on the literal meaning to prevent our own deception…
To fear is to act more like a drowning man. You feel so dreadful you strangle those who attempt to save you. It is difficult for you in that state to relax, so you hold onto anything you grab. Let us therefore not let any situation overwhelm us. Instead, we are to trust that life will always be life.
Kodwo Brumpon is an author, a life coach and a philanthropist who inspires individuals, groups and organisations to think and feel that which is true, by helping them to positively respond to that which is beautiful while nudging them to let goodness govern their actions.
Comments, suggestions and requests should be sent to him at [email protected]