During our time on earth, the human race has been called upon in a number of different ways to confront fear.
For our long lost ancestors, it might have meant staring down the snarling jaws of a dirty great bear, or dodging the arrows of a competing tribe. Then perhaps fear was shown to us in the form of failing crops and the resulting famine, or maybe the threat of disease. We went on to fear unknown lands, and their unknown people, before fear of war and the loss of our loved ones returned and lingered over us.
Those only a few generations before some of us feared not only for their lives on the front lines of a war that they found themselves fighting, but for everything they had ever known. The fear they experienced as they watched their friends killed alongside them is, quite frankly, completely f*cking unimaginable.
So what am I afraid of? What is it that gives me a cold sweat, makes my heart race and incites my fight or flight? Horses. And the dentist.
Due to some probably-not-that-bad-in-retrospect experiences as a child, my response to these two quite innocuous things is rather extreme. See, there’s a chance that a horse could use its majestically awful hoof, to kick me in the face and snap my neck. Or the socially accepted torture of a routine dental procedure could go horribly wrong, and I could end up on a mortuary slab, as opposed to that bloody awful dentist’s chair, before you can say “root canal.” But really, I know that it’s quite irrational.
For others, the thought of just talking to other people can incite a response on par with staring down the barrel of a gun, or a dirty door handle, or of being left alone, or any number of things.
So when we take a step back and really think about what we have to deal with, compared to those who came before us… we’ve got it pretty damn easy. But does that really help us?
I can’t say that thought has ever done too much for me. When we’re in the grips of a particularly nasty panic attack, thinking about how silly it all is isn’t such an easy thing to do.
The fact is, we were born to be afraid.
From an evolutionary perspective, fear is wired into us—and for a good purpose. It kept our ancestors alive long enough to pass on their own DNA so that we could walk the Earth today. And here’s the cool part—we’re all descendant from the successful ones.
Our lives tell the story of those who overcame famine, disease, and some quite nasty stuff. Each one of us is a living proof of the perseverance of our race, and I find the thought of that a lot more comforting. It’s what they went through and how they dealt with it what enabled us to progress. We learned how to overcome a lot of these threats so that those who came after us wouldn’t need to worry about them. We developed irrigation, antibiotics, policies, technologies, and ways of living that mean, for a lot of us, things like dysentery aren’t typically a concern.
Most of you who have the opportunity to even read this have a similar environment as my own—a safe one—yet, as we’re all hopefully aware, not all of those who walk among us today have the luxury of being able to avoid their fears in such a simple manner as not going to a farm. And not all of us are blessed with the opportunity to fall asleep at night without genuine concern for own own lives, or those of our loved ones.
So we have an opportunity, nay, a responsibility, to not belittle our fears, but to embrace and confront them. There’s no way of knowing what our descendants may come up against, but as long as we continue to stand up against what scares us to pass along a message of resilience and strength, I’m sure we’ll do just fine.
We’ve got the time and the ability to aid even further in progressing our knowledge so that the fears of tomorrow might be a little easier to deal with. We’re able to connect, to discuss ideas, to develop perspectives and we have the benefit of looking at our history to anticipate what might be coming further along the line.
If we try hard enough, we can even use our fears to incite change and to bring us together, because at the end of the day, we’re all afraid of something. Each little battle won by each and every one of us is a little step forward for all of us together.
So the next time you feel anxious, remember that we are descendant from the brave. We are the brave.
(And I had a root canal last week and guess what… I’m not dead.)
Author: Sophia Royle
Image: Noah Grezlak/Flickr
Editor: Katarina Tavčar