Fear serves a purpose in our lives; it gives us a defense warning system to avoid certain people, animals, situations, or environment to avoid death, pain, or loss. It is rational to have a certain level of fear, such as crossing a busy street because of the possibility that we may be hit by a car and forever maimed, or worse yet, meet our own death. It is rational because the perceived risks exist, and serves a purpose in making us extra vigilant in our efforts to get from one side of the street to the other side. Social scientist describes this as rational fear in which the level of emotional arousal is equal to that of the real danger. As our autonomic nervous system kicks in, our body is flooded with adrenaline and hormones that make us hyper vigilant in double-checking before we cross, as well as our muscles and limbs are ready to jump into action if the threat of a speeding car is heard or seen. However, what about fears we all have that have no basis of any real risk?
All of us most likely can think of a fear we have that really has no serious threat to our safety. Social scientist have labeled this irrational fear, because the amount of emotional and physiological arousal that an individual experiences is not congruent with the actual danger the individual faces. Some of this irrational fear is based on our earlier childhood experiences. For example, I have a fear of birds. As a young child playing in my backyard on my swing set, aggressive starlings would dive bomb me, leaving scratches on the top of my head. Watching Alfred Hitchcock’s psychological thriller The Birds probably did not help this matter as well. To this day, I keep my distances from birds, unless they are safely locked away in a cage, and even that if I see them eyeing the top of my head, I prefer to move away. This fear is based on my former experiences and although irrational, can be explained and understood by my childhood experiences.
But what about those situations where we really do not know where the hell that creeping feeling of anxiety, fear, and yes, sometimes pure terror is coming from This past month, I have been fighting a battle with a gecko in my garden. A gecko, which is perhaps no longer than my hand, even when measuring the creature from the very tip of its nose to the very tip of its tail. A reptile that does not have the ability to inflict any source of pain to me. A small creature that I disproportionality outweigh 100 times over and could squash all the life out of his little translucent body with only one small “step” of my foot. Although every encounter this gecko monster and I have had this past month has resulted in me unleashing murderous screams, mixed with profanities that are only heard when an individual is facing dangers such as the inferno of hell. My reflexes and muscles go into overdrive. In the past month, I have hurled a watering can, a book, and this evening, my mobile became my weapon of choice as the miniaturized T. rex rushed me in defiance of defending his territory behind the flowerpot. Yes, my rival garden inhabitant has been named T. rex, or Tyrannosaurus rex, which when translated from Greek means “tyrannical lizard king”. My irrational fear and response is equivalent to what my prehistoric ancestors must have experienced right before the giant T. rex munched down on their fragile human bodies and sliced through their flesh with his razor sharp teeth (or at least that is how they always portrayed it in the movies). Although, the miniaturized T. rex in my garden poses no danger to me, and the likelihood of him even crossing the boundary and taking even a lizardly-lick of me is quite remote. Still yet, looking at his image, which my oldest daughter captured with her phone (no doubt as entertainment for my four daughters watching their mother scream and visibly shake even with a digital image), is an account of how irrational humans are.
I am sure somewhere in my past I was exposed to some image that has been imprinted in the recesses of my unconscious of the mortal or even moral threat of some creature that has a resemblance to my gecko garden enemy. Perhaps all those Sunday morning of my parents watching the Nature channel on PBS, or the cheesy movies of the 1970’s and 1980’s, where the life of a caveman was depicted by women being pulled by their hair by the caveman, and T. rex chomping them both for his evening meal. With that thought, how many other irrational fears do I, or others have of places, people, or things that are based on some brief image imprinted in their memory? How many times have you caught yourself in fear or discomfort of something or someone that you have never had contact with, and do not pose a real threat to you? Where does this fear stem from? From images you have seen on television on the news, movies, or even stories vicariously transmitted to your from a 2nd hand source? Furthermore, where did the second source get their information? When I think about it, perhaps I am being unfair to T. rex in my garden and need to revise my plans of sending my warrior husband off in the morning to do battle and ultimately annihilate T. rex. Perhaps instead I need to learn to appreciate the fact that T. rex, the gecko, is actually eating the insects that pose far more risk to the lives of my plants and myself than he ever will. We need to question the level of rationality that exists in our fear, and especially when the fear enrages us to look for ways to destroy the other, which is in reality, no threat at all.