Several years ago while I was in junior secondary school, I would join my mum in her office after school so that I could ride with her home. Her office was on the fourth floor of the building and I usually enjoyed the view from up there. One day, when we were already at the car park, she remembered that she had left something behind in her office and I offered to go and get it. That was not entirely because of my “niceness” but because of the fun I believed I would have riding in the elevator. The trip up was great and I was expecting the journey to the ground floor to be greater. The doors of the elevator opened and I saw a middle-aged man standing inside. While I had hoped to have the elevator all to myself, I consoled myself that “the more the merrier”. “After all, the man was entitled to some fun after a hard day’s work”, I thought.
I braced myself for the thrill of the “dropping” elevator and enjoyed watching the light on the display buttons as they signaled the floor we were passing through. As we arrived on the ground floor, something curious happened- the power went out! In fewer seconds than my young mind could comprehend, several thoughts rushed at me, “The elevator is airtight. Is anyone around? I don’t want to die!” Suddenly, I started pounding on the elevator doors in desperation.
Suddenly, I heard the middle-aged man shout at me to stop screaming. Ah, I had completely forgotten about him! “Maybe there is hope after all, since adults have answers to everything”, I thought. So I step back with confidence to let him do the trick. First, he punched at some emergency buttons in the elevator, and then he tried speaking into the intercom supposedly calling the operators for help. By the time he started trying to pull the elevator doors apart with his bare hands, I began to get worried. However, I knew we were definitely in trouble when he suddenly started pounding on the door and screaming! “Adults can be really amazing”, I thought. How quickly he lost his “dignity” and started screaming when he discovered what I had known all along- we were trapped! Just at that moment, something miraculous happened. Power was restored momentarily, just enough for the doors to open partially. We both scrambled for the door! The man got out first but I was right behind him!
I cannot help but reflect on why I was so scared in that elevator. I was afraid of something that didn’t even happen. But what if it had? Fear is mostly based on “what ifs”. What if I lose my job? What if I can’t get cured? What if they hate me? What if I’m not good enough? What if he’s not the right man for me? What if I fail my exams? What if I’m too late? And the list goes on and on. Fear is always about what we expect. We fear in anticipation of a negative outcome we consider inevitable, which a lot of time doesn’t happen.
I entered the word “fear” into the Google search engine and was amazed to return 521million entries on the subject. That tells me that someone is really scared out there. Actually, almost everyone is afraid of one thing or the other. Does this make us weak? No! It makes us natural. Here are a few facts we need to know about fear:
- Fear aids preservation: fear is an emotion that is triggered when we perceive threats around us. When the threat is legitimate, the emotion helps us to take precaution. Imagine seeing a rattle snake or a king cobra and trying to give it a pat on the head! Fear tells you not to dare, and for a good reason too. Fear tells us that something harmful is nearby so we take cover. What would our lives be like without such survival instinct?
- Fear aids preparation: fear makes us conscious of how ill prepared we are for tasks ahead. The truth is that we are hardly ever prepared enough for anything until we successfully complete it. Hence, it is helpful to feel inadequate so we can try harder to achieve our goals. If we get overconfident, we may under-perform. We need some degree of fear to keep us from taking things for granted.
- Uncontrolled fear can lead to a breakdown: if you’ve ever been frightened, then you will be familiar with the feeling of your heart pounding like it received a blow. For that instant, you cannot think or act. Extreme fear creates a feeling of helplessness and hopelessness. One loses the will or strength to fight. This is the kind of fear to avoid.
- Fear is a choice: every emotion can be managed. For as long as we are humans, we cannot escape having emotions but we can determine our response to them. We all get angry but we don’t all hit the other person or kill. We all feel sad sometimes but we don’t all express our grief publicly. We all love but we don’t all express it the same way. Likewise, we all have fears but not all of us give up hope and wait for the perceived danger to come. William Shakespeare puts it aptly when he said, “A coward dies a thousand times before his death, but the valiant taste of death but once”. Abraham Lincoln also said, “If I am killed, I can die but once; but to live in constant dread of it is to die over and over again”. Don’t resign to fear; fight and conquer it. It is possible.