Fear, Friend or Foe?

America is feeling the affects of fear. A microscopic bug, the Coronavirus, is the culprit. While I am not a psychologist, I have enough experience with fear to talk a bit about it, from the perspective of someone who has seen the damaging aspects of this super strong emotion. The learned folks who study this phenomena will tell you that fear is comprised of two components, biochemical and emotional. That is all you need to know about it from an academic perspective. Now let’s talk about it from a street perspective.

Confronting Fear

Herman Melville “Ignorance is the parent of fear”

Mr. Melville has captured, perfectly, the motivation behind the essential commodity hoarding that is currently so pervasive. It is a good kind of ignorance, honest and satisfying in that folks feel they are doing something to manage this scourge they do not understand. Honestly, few people do understand Covid-19, and those that do change their minds daily. Hoarding is also irrational, another by-product of fear. It is this fear that causes an otherwise rational person to buy 500 rolls of toilet tissue.

Jimmy Stewart “Fear is an insidious and deadly thing. It can warp judgement, freeze reflexes and breed mistakes. Worse, it’s contagious”

Mr. Stewart was a bomber pilot in WW II. He flew many missions over Europe where a tremendous number of his fellow pilots and crews were killed during virtually every mission. The military prepares you to face fear. They understand that when wrapped in fear, you will either freeze and likely be killed, or react as you were trained, relying on proven battleground tactics. This is the same methodology used to prepare a police officer. In basic training, we were paired off with another trainee and placed in a pugil stick pit. In my day this was great sport for the cadre, much like a prize fight. The pugil stick is a broom stick with “padded” ends and is ostensibly used to train bayonet techniques. The traineees actually beat each other senseless with them. I was paired with one of the meanest asshats I have ever known and still recall his name clearly. He was big, not particularly bright and wore a tattoo on his bulging arm that read “Born to Raise Hell”. I was horrified, but still thinking. Anthony tripped about halfway through his administration of a brain numbing beating and I returned his beating, swinging the stick like a cave man killing a dinosaur. The cadre loved it and I lived to fight another day.

William Shakespeare “Extreme fear can neither fight nor fly”

We aren’t to this point yet, but we can see it from here. Every time a new restriction is mandated, the panic level notches up a bit. Don’t believe it? Read social media where folks are slowly taking leave of reason. I can recall a gunfight in Vietnam where we thought it was going to be our last minutes on earth. The moment was saved by savvy combat veterans who reminded us we weren’t dead yet, perfect advice when you were not exactly sure what your next move is. That I am here is a testament to thinking under pressure.

So, what do we do now? How do we manage this thing called fear. First, you engage your brain. Stop letting the talking heads govern your response. Listen to the facts, then sit for a few minutes periodically to breathe and accept that it is okay. This is also a great time to consider the many positives in your life and acknowledge how fortunate you really are. Recognize that anxiety is the storehouse of wisdom. Another great fear management tool is humor. Again, social media has turned out one numerous thought or spin on the current crises after another. Police officers have, since the beginning of their existence, relied on gallows humor to help assuage their fearful moments and experiences. Humor works and does not mean you discount the seriousness of the event. Finally, exercise. Before the advent of Pelotons and outrageously expensive gym equipment, we turned out marvelous physical specimens relying on the floor as a device. There are any number of publications that will help you understand the “old way” of exercising. Walking is never out of style!

Another smart guy, Christopher Paolini, said, “Without fear, there cannot be courage”. Accept rational fear, understand you can manage it and remember you are a human being capable of reasoning. Fear is not going away….but neither are we!

Have a great week!


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