Author: Amy Miller, Supervisor
Fear. What is fear? “An unpleasant emotion caused by the belief that someone or something is dangerous, likely to cause pain, or a threat.” When we are fearful we disengage, avoid, hide, and put up boundaries (tangible or intangible). We refuse to let ourselves be vulnerable.
- Kids who are afraid of the dark sleep with a light on to make the dark vanish; they destroy darkness itself out of protection.
- People who are afraid of heights stay grounded, always looking up – never venturing to gain a new perspective.
- Someone afraid of rejection might avoid relationship altogether, spending time alone, isolated from the rewards of friendship.
Fear motivates. Fear literally ignites a “fight or flight” mode in which we are filled with adrenaline and must react. This adrenaline physically etches the distasteful experience into our brain so that we know how to avoid experiencing those emotions again. In a way, fear is good. Fear keeps us from entering a dark alley by our self, or reaching out to pet a poisonous snake. But fear also paralyzes our choices. We will do anything to seek the comfort and safety of what we believe is true, real, okay, normal, and manageable.
Recently, I was listening to the song “Heart of Life” by John Mayer. The song is about persevering through life’s struggles based on the belief that “the heart of life is good.” One of the lines in particular stuck out to me as I was listening. Mayer sings, “Fear is a friend that’s misunderstood, but I know the heart of life is good.” By his definition, fear is a misunderstanding and prejudice that keeps us from reaching out to someone else. It is a belief that the differences seen in someone else are “dangerous, likely to cause pain, a threat,” and ultimately, an assumption we make to eliminate the need to engage.
This assumption causes us to destroy relationship, remain stuck in our own perspective, and isolate ourselves from someone else.
“Fear is a friend that’s misunderstood.” As I thought about fear and this line in John Mayer’s song, I considered the friends I work with on a regular basis — our adults living with developmental disabilities. How often has someone refused to engage in relationship with one of our adults because of fear? Is it because the communication of someone with Autism might look different? Or maybe they just could not understand why, or what, or who that adult with Down Syndrome was? Oftentimes, we want to remain in a place we believe is “true, real, normal, and manageable.” We can be paralyzed by our inability to understand.
Then I thought about how often I have refused to understand someone that intimidates me. We all have people we avoid – those who we refuse to be vulnerable with because we are not confident the result will be positive. We isolate ourselves from one another out of fear, and eliminate the need to engage because we do not understand. “Fear is a friend that’s misunderstood, but I know the heart of life is good.”
At InJOY, we choose to engage with those who are different than us – both staff and members alike – because we believe the result is always good. We choose to be vulnerable with one another, even those who we do not understand; we make it our mission to continually try new ways of engaging in relationship, sometimes being forced into vulnerability when we are brought to the end of ourselves on a difficult day… But the result is GOOD. Good friendships, good growth, and good change.
As the age-old quote goes, “The only thing we have to fear is fear itself.”
So what are you afraid of?