As far back as I can remember, the first time I called myself a coward was when I was in fourth grade. The teacher gave the class an assignment requiring each student to get up in front of the class and give a speech about a book we had read. We were allowed to use some cue cards but were not permitted to read the speech word for word.
At home, when I thought about that assignment becoming due in a week, my heart pounded and I thought that I’d end up looking stupid. Then I thought to myself, I’m such a coward. I called myself a chicken for being scared and a number of other names as well. At the same time, I began to do some other things. I chose a book that I would report on, wrote out what I would say, and rehearsed in front of a mirror. In the end, my little speech turned out just fine.
Did viewing myself as a coward, and calling myself names help me in any way to get through this ordeal? It is indeed true that it was part of the process that led to a good outcome, and partly because of this, it became associated with what I needed to do to achieve success in other fearful situations–kind of like a superstition. But, in time, I learned to deepen my understanding of the nature of fear, and I no longer bother with framing myself as a coward or deliberately calling myself insulting names. Oh, from time to time, some of the old words still spring up in my mind during fearful moments, but I simply observe them passing by in a nonjudgmental manner, and they fade away in a few seconds.
What did I learn that led me to this understanding? Well, to get at this, I think a little parable might help.
The Parable of Mother Nature’s New Creation
In winter, the nearby lake iced up. To keep the food supply flowing, some bravely walked out on the lake and created ice fishing. Others refused to go out on the ice explaining that they were fearful the ice would break and they would end up all drowning in the frigid water.
Although the ice fishers were brave when it came to walking on the ice, some were fearful when it came to dealing with other situations. For example, some fishers refused to farm because they were fearful of the bugs and slimy creatures that were uncovered during the turning of the soil.
Barty, one of these early humans, was way too fearful to go on the ice to fish, so he tried to help out his little community by farming. The insects and slimy creatures scared him, so after about an hour, he left the field and returned to his little hut a bit shaken by what he had experienced.
Seeing her son looking fearful, Barty’s mother told him a story filled with rich images of how thankful the other humans were when the farmers showed up in the evening with wonderful fruits and vegetables. With those inspiring images, Barty went out a little longer the next day, and a little longer the next, and soon he got so used to the bugs and slimy creatures that they no longer scared him.
Some of these human beings who were fearful of either ice-fishing or farming tried to come up with other ways to be helpful. A few worked on coming up with techniques to preserve food that were grown in summer so that it would remain edible during winter. In time they created several approaches that allowed for a more varied winter food supply.
Then one day something terrible happened on the ice. It cracked and all of the fishers drowned in the freezing water. Some who were afraid to go out on the ice watched in horror. Barty, when he heard what happened, began to tremble. And then he thought to himself, it’s a good thing some of us were afraid to ice-fish or we would have all perished.
As it turned out in this parable, it was a good thing for this new creation of Mother Nature that some of the human beings were fearful of the ice. Otherwise all of the human beings would have died in this one horrible event. Because there were those who were fearful of the ice, this human characteristic was essential for keeping this new creation of Mother Nature thriving until this very day. Having some diversity in what people fear need not be a sign of cowardliness but helpful for survival.
In my view, when we experience fear, we are wise to spend some time embracing this feeling and deeply experiencing its physical sensations in a nonjudgmental manner. Then, some of the skills I discussed in my last two posts for transforming our fear into actions that lead to achieving our desires are employed (see posts titled Free of Fear and Overcoming Fear). These types of experiences are an essential part of who we are and lead us on to our most treasured accomplishments.
Some people will enjoy reading this blog by beginning with the first post and then moving forward to the next more recent one; then to the next one; and so on. This permits readers to catch up on some ideas that were presented earlier and to move through all of the ideas in a systematic fashion to develop their emotional intelligence. To begin at the very first post you can click HERE.