As youngsters, we learn to fear through the actions of others. Chances are if mom runs screaming at the top of her lungs every time she sees a spider, you'll be afraid of these miniscule creatures, too. If your older brother can't sleep unless his night light is on, you'll be uncomfortable in the dark as well. Fear is a learned response which means it can be discarded if we have the mindset to do so.
Before I go any further, let me say that some fears are necessary for our very survival. If your house is on fire and you're still in it, for God's sake get out! Being afraid of the raging flames and unbearable heat might be the only things that save your life. This kind of fear is essential to your well-being.
My blog today is about our baseless fears. These kinds of trepidation are inordinate reactions to the unknown without ever having actually allowed ourselves the chance to personally experience them and decide whether or not there is really anything to be afraid of.
The thought of eating sushi repulses me. All I can think of is putting raw fish in my mouth and feeling the cold, slimy pieces sliding down my throat. Yuk! Yet tons of folks have told me how delightful sushi is and go out of their way to find great spots where it is available. Ashamedly, I'm afraid to try it, afraid of gagging and throwing up right there at the table! But since I've never eaten sushi, in order to overcome this fear, I'd have to do it and see if by confronting it, I could possibly like sushi and add this delicacy to my menu choices in the future. I'm still working on this one.
I also have a great fear of heights. Recently I visited an amusement park while visiting my children in North Carolina. My daughter-in-law needed a partner to ride the Exterminator or whatever it was called, and on the spur of the moment I went with her. As the coaster climbed closer and closer to the clouds, I felt this sense of peace wash over me. It was a beautiful feeling. The ride was fast and bumpy, but it didn't bother me much. During the next trip down, I rode it twice more. What I learned was that my fear of height had been keeping me from experiencing the rush of reaching the skies and then suddenly dropping to the ground and living to want to do it again and again. Even at the age of 70, discarding ill-begotten fears is extremely freeing!
Something I've never feared was meeting people of different race and culture. As a small child, my Baba exposed me to many European nationalities and traditions. Since she embraced the people and their practices, I automatically did the same. I tried foods I'd never eaten before and broadened my limited appetites. I learned to appreciate the difference in the way these folks talked and dressed. I was comfortable in their homes and made many lasting friends. As an added benefit, I became a more well-rounded person able to interact positively with people different than myself.
Throughout my professional career, I came into contact with a vast number of cultural differences. I met people whose heritage was rooted in faraway places I'd only read about. Families from Japan, China, Spain, Russia, and Africa to mention only a few, attended our school. Each year we held Cultural Diversity Days in which moms and dads of many colors and cultures proudly shared their ancestry with our students. These youngsters, ages 2-6, eagerly absorbed everything presented to them like tiny thirsty sponges. Because of the safe and pleasant environment their interaction with the unknown was, these children avoided preconceived notions of race and diversity and had absolutely no fear of the differences they encountered. Instead they learned to celebrate difference, NOT FEAR IT!
My advice to the young parents reading this is to give your youngsters as many opportunities to learn about differences of all kinds so rather than learning to fear them, they will embrace differences with eagerness and acceptance. You will be helping them to expand their horizons in more ways than you can imagine.
Oh, and for heavens sake, don't scream when you see a spider even if you have to tape your mouth shut. These little buggers are very important to the entire food chain and the preservation of our world. It's true, I'm not pulling your chain!