Whatever I Fear
You are your own worst enemy. That is, until you start listening to others.
In times of high stress or fear, our animal brains emerge from the shadows, brush off the cobwebs and tap us on the shoulder to say, “I got this.”
Now is the moment a tiny, almond-shaped part of your brain called the amygdala leaps into action. It is the center of the fight-or-flight response. Very useful when we find ourselves in life-threatening situations. You know; those where indecision and inaction hand imminent danger the win.
This is all well and good when an apex predator has you in its sights or a distracted driver is barreling towards you, but not so much in our mundane, everyday lives. That is when things can get messy.
When something sudden, unexpected and unsettling occurs, we want answers. We need an explanation. Information. Something to hang on to. And fast...
Our blood pressure rises. The pulse quickens, and pupils dilate. Fear begins to build. (“Hi, I am the part of the brain that you cannot pronounce, and I will be taking over from here.”)
Individual concerns amplify and entropy builds with each collision of one fear against another. And another. And another. Soon, it is nothing but frenetic, uncontrolled noise.
It can be deafening.
In the absence of facts, speculation takes over. Gaps are filled in. Our own worst fears bubble to the surface, and we search for evidence (and often contort it to fit) to support our positions. Concerns start to adjust, then align, resulting in a growing, misguided consensus.
By then, it is too late.
In 1999, a horror film called The Blair Witch project was released. It was groundbreaking in many ways. The directors used unknown actors, a technique called ‘found footage’ to give the film a homemade look and crafted and supported an elaborate back story. Was it a movie? A documentary? Or worse, real footage of a group gone missing searching for evidence of a mythological creature lurking in the woods?
But the real innovation came in the protagonist of the story: the Blair Witch itself. It was never shown on camera. Descriptions were intentionally vague, leaving only an opaque concept of what the heroes of the tale were really up against.
Here is where your brain got to do some heavy lifting. You filled in the missing pieces – with whatever was scariest to you as an individual. See, if the director had dolled up an actor in horrifying makeup or set the CGI animators loose, a choice would have been made. A stake in the sand. It may have scared the living daylights out of you, or maybe, only elicited a bored yawn.
There is nothing more terrifying for you individually than what your own mind can conjure up. Until, that is, you begin to absorb the fears of others, as well. Then everything really comes off the hinges.
That is why uncertainty needs action.
When the seas are stormy, it is your responsibility as captain of the ship to quickly take steps to calm the storm, navigate the vessel through the choppy waters or prepare the crew for an unanticipated swim.
It is at this moment when real leaders emerge.
Indecision, apathy or indifference mean certain doom. Once a mutiny has been set in motion, it will never be the same. It cannot be fully undone, and there is no going back to zero.
A swift and strong response is needed. Like immediately. Concise and relevant information should be shared. Instructions must be clear, direct and communicated in a way that resonates. With urgency. Confidence can bring calm – and perhaps more important, keep those instinctual responses at bay.
There is often no easy answer. All choices may be unclear, fluid, uncomfortable or even have dire consequences. But one has to be made.
Don’t be afraid to step up.
Whatever I Fear by Toad the Wet Sprocket.
You may have noticed by now that my musical tastes are all over the board. But one thing seems to pervade: many of the bands in my collection have odd names. What makes this one stand out (and gives them extra cred in my book) is that they lifted it from a Monty Python sketch. This band was a constant presence on alternative radio with several cross-over songs in the late 90s and early 2000s. And for good reason. They produce good music.