Tuesday, January 17, 2017

King of Fear/Year of Courage

I consider myself the King of Fear. At one time or another in my life, I’ve been afraid of just about everything. When I was four, I was afraid of thunder and lightning. Now I love a good thunderstorm. At five I was terrified of street cleaners. If I saw one, I’d immediately run screaming and crying home before I got run over and chopped into a million pieces. I’m happy to say that I’ve overcome those fears, and many others. I’m still not too crazy about being in the water, and high places manage to give me the heebie-jeebies, although I did successfully jump 14,000 feet out of a plane last year. So, at the beginning of this year, I declared 2017, for myself at least, to be the year of courage. It will be the year to push myself out of my comfort zone to discard as many of my fears as possible.

Honestly, having always been a very shy person, my greatest fears have always been certain types of personal interaction, especially if they required me to initiate the interaction, or if it involved any sort of confrontation. And there have been what I call milestones of fear that I've had to face that really just made me shake. There was the terrifying moment the first time I asked a girl out on a date (and got shot down - you know who you are!). Then years later there was the exponentially more terrifying moment the first time I asked a guy out on a date (shot down again!). There were the times I had to be harsh with people when required. But certainly living in New York City for over 22 years has been very beneficial, absolutely requiring so many types of interaction on a daily basis, forcing me to overcome many of my fears.

One type of confrontation I've always been afraid to engage in is political arguments. Over the course of 30 years as an adult voter, I've seen and heard a lot of things that I haven't liked or agreed with, some things even that were downright indefensible. But I held my tongue to avoid confrontation. It's so much easier to get along that way. In that time, many of my views, political and social, have changed, many have not, and society's norms have changed as well. I've usually been able to roll with it all.

But what will happen in just a couple days puts another fear in me that will require me to stop holding my tongue, to speak honestly for the months and years ahead. I don't fear for myself, really. I'm an American-born, white Christian male with a job, good health, and health insurance. I'll be fine. I worry for those who are not white, Christian, employed, healthy, insured men, because everyone outside of that bubble is in danger of losing their opportunity, their money, their voice, their freedom, or potentially more. What I see from this individual we have elected to lead our nation is nothing good, but only judgement and immature insults and condemnation, and the appeal not to our courage, but to our fears. I also see way too much of it from our other government leaders. I also see it from those who support this man. I also see it from those who oppose this man. So stop it. Stop the stupid fear.

Remember, I'm the king of fear, I've been there, I've experienced it, I've lived it. I know what it looks like, I know what it sounds like, I know what it smells like. You have it. I have it. Recognize when it is unwarranted. If you are claustrophobic, don't start ripping the walls apart, because they are not actually closing in on you. There are definitely some situations and actions and words that must be condemned, that are indefensible. But the larger the group of people you condemn, the less likely they are to deserve it. Solving the problems in our world requires the abandonment of this fear, it requires that we not fear and condemn, for example, undocumented workers, or Muslims, or those who live in violent neighborhoods, but rather look at the complex economic, political, social and historical issues that bring about problems in the areas where the problems exist. It's the same way in which solving the problems in our own personal lives requires that we lose our personal fears as well.

So I will call on everyone to make this their year of courage, to overcome your fears to find solutions to problems. This is required of all of us as citizens, and it takes a conscious effort. This doesn't mean the courage to shout louder than anyone else, that requires no courage at all. Have the courage to learn (that damn "L" word again!) - this means everyone! Have the courage to own and admit your mistakes. Have the courage to step outside your bubble. Have the courage to listen, respectfully. Have the courage to speak and express, respectfully and responsibly. Have the courage to write your own words, perhaps even in the form of complete sentences and paragraphs, instead of reposting a meme, even at the risk of public criticism, which might even be deserved. At the risk of failure, try. Be better than our leaders, because you are. Aim higher. But stay away from street cleaners. Happy 2017!

5 comments:

  1. I knew there was a reason I loved you from day 1!!!

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  2. Ah, you are very well-spoken. Thank you!

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  3. Thanks for sharing this, Phil - very nice essay and thoroughly appropriate for our country's current state of affairs.

    On a slightly related tangent, I recall being apprehensive about approaching you to say hello. This goes back to North Coast 2011. You were staying at the same hotel there in Cleveland (can't recall the name) that I was. But I was too nervous to say hello there and during the race (when you were quite busy winning the 24-hour race!). I saw you later that day at the Cleveland airport - you were waiting for your flight to board back to NY and I was waiting for mine to board back to LA. You were by yourself, eating a burger, and I finally got the nerve up to go over to you to say "Congratulations" on your win. You could not have been nicer, even you tried. So...my fear that you wouldn't be a nice person was completely unfounded!

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  4. Thanks for sharing this. I relate to your experience with feelings of anxiety and fear, and the work it can take to overcome them. I've always been very shy and interacting with people I don't know well often intimidates the heck out of me. Ultra running has actually helped me improve my confidence with this a bit with meeting and getting to know all kinds of folks during long races.

    I also agree that this isn't the year to let fear prevent us from trying to be more socially and politically active-- helping out the members of our community who may not have the privileges and opportunities we have. Although I am a bit nervous about it (��), I want to get myself involved in some volunteer projects around Chicago this year. A feel that a willingness to learn, to be wrong, and to be open can't easily coexist with the feelings of anger or fear, and I think we can all work to cultivate more openness and courageous compassion.

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