Way 6: Fear

Way 6: Fear

You are probably wondering why this is the next item on the list, especially in light of the fact that previously I said that awe encompassed fear.

Here we are focusing exclusively on that feeling of dread, the one that causes a flight or fight response.  This is different than awe, which compels you to stay put and observe in amazement.

I think it is fortuitous to be talking about fear.  Too often people are afraid of facing any negative emotion.  As a result, more and more people need the help of social workers to learn first and foremost how to recognize what they are feeling, and only then to learn how to deal with it.  I have heard a number of talks by Simon Sinek (see YouTube) where he talks about the various consequences of being disconnected from our feelings. (This is my summation that each talk highlights a different consequence but points to the same core problem.)  It is a problem when out of fear of someone feeling bad you give participation trophies and young people do not learn to face the consequence of lack of effort.  It is unhealthy when we teach students to avoid fear of failure by comforting them that they will avoid the embarrassment of grade retention by passing them along.  It is dangerous when someone does not recognize the feeling of fear and cannot stop to think about it logically and come up with a healthy and safe solution rather than subjecting themselves to the abuse, bullying or danger.

Fear is a very healthy emotion.  Fear serves as a warning that a negative consequence or experience may be up ahead.  The job of the educator is to teach students the positive side of fear.  Fear may compel you to keep commitments so as not to disappoint the person relying on you and thus avoid the consequence of severing a relationship.  After all, you don’t usually want to get fired from any position and deal with feeling like a failure.  As an educator, hopefully you have worked on being so awesome that your students fear disappointing you and give you a bit more effort. Fear of authority is very healthy.  We have seen the chaos that results from police absence.  To be clear I am not advocating for dictatorship.  Plainly that doesn’t work for, “when the cat’s away the mice will play”.  It is not healthy that people only drive safely if they suspect a police presence is nearby.  It would be better if people feared the consequence of unsafe driving.  It would do a world of good if all, including those in a position of authority had a healthy dose of fear to compel them to behave better instead of taking advantage of their position.  No one should feel they are above the law of consequence.

On the flip side a student needs to learn when fear is unhealthy.  A person who is afraid to pursue a dream may not be using fear in a healthy way.  I person who does not stand up for what is right for fear of financial or social consequences is using unhealthy fear.  (That this is a common problem should be apparent as we continue to be bombarded with news stories of sexual harassment come to light by offenders who have been offending for decades – these victims and the witnesses had this unhealthy fear or the situation would not have perpetuated for so long).

Just this morning I participated in a meeting where I made some valuable suggestions in an effort to improve the department.  Every suggestion was summarily dismissed with excuses.  Some were as easy to implement as to change some wording in an existing outcome document, and some would have taken effort but would have been worth it as it would achieve the stated goal.  Not only was each suggestion dismissed but I was made to feel like I was bothering the rest of the committee with my suggestions.  I don’t let setbacks like these inhibit me from speaking truth (and I am a troubleshooter by nature).  However, I can easily understand how someone with a little less confidence may allow such an experience convince them to keep quiet in the future and just rubber stamp the agenda and earn the resume credit of being on the committee.   While I understand how such a situation comes to be it is important to recognize that this attitude is dangerous.  My suggestions don’t have to be agreed with, but I should feel they are welcome.  Then if I have anything else to share I won’t be afraid of not being treated with respect.  The emergency crew my husband belongs to understands this.  No matter how ridiculous or inappropriate the call their goal is to make sure the (potential) patient always feels respected and comfortable enough to call again in the event that next time may be a real emergency.

Can your students identify when their fear is healthy and when it is paralyzing?  Can they recognize and prioritize their feelings like an emergency responder triaging a mass casualty?



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