Posted: 19 Dec 2010 11:54 PM PST
Fear is a complex emotion, it can protect us and limit us, it can make us timid and it can make us aggressive.
Fear evolved for practical reasons. We assess external stimulation for risk, if a situation appears to represent a threat our whole body reacts.
The limbic part of the brain (the oldest, most primitive part closest to the spine) takes control and shuts down access to the cerebral (thinking) part of the brain.
Blood flows to the muscles and heart and away from the brain.
Powerful stimulants and pain-suppressors, endorphins and adrenaline are pumped into our body.
We are ready to fight or escape.
In some ways our emotions struggle to evolve fast enough to cope with our rapidly developing lifestyles. We often appear to struggle to differentiate between situations which require fear as a response and those that require a different and more evolved response.
This misapplication of fear is what limits us or makes us aggressive when we could respond more appropriately and effectively.
Fear in work situations might make us cautious missing opportunities for creativity or innovation, it might make us insecure preventing us from speaking out, it might make us conform rather than challenge an error.
Burmese opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi observed:
“It is not power that corrupts but fear. Fear of losing power corrupts those who wield it and fear of the scourge of power corrupts those who are subject to it.”
Fear occurs when we lack the confidence to deal with a situation. This might be perfectly reasonable when we are confronted by a Tiger, but something more subtle and nuanced is required when we are confronted with a challenge that we need to think our way out of rather than fight or run.
Indeed the fear response specifically inhibits our ability to think our way out of a problem. Intense physical activity mimics a lot of the physiological elements of fear – try doing mental arithmetic while exercising hard.
We need to learn to manage our emotions to the extent that we can keep fear under control and maintain our capacity to think, even under stress.
For much of our evolutionary past winter was a fearful time of year. The shortest day was celebrated as it meant the light was returning. The animals were slaughtered providing fresh meat for the celebrations and avoiding the need to feed them during the famine months from January to March.
Many of us are experiencing a dark period in our society. We can choose to respond to that darkness with fear and the consequent aggression or timidity or we can choose not to.
As we celebrate the passing of the darkness this year, let’s make a conscious decision to move from fearful reaction to loving response as much as we can.
We have the choice to move from darkness into the light or into further darkness. Lightness requires us to replace our fear with love. Further fear will lead to deeper darkness.
If you are afraid of the dark, live with light and love, not fear.
Best of TED this week: Shimon Shocken talks about the transformative effects of mountain biking on prisoners in Israel. Watch his TED talk, put it on your web site, link to it and talk about it to everyone you meet. I have put it on www.neilcrofts.com
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