All the really ugly emotions are firmly rooted in fear. Fear that we won’t measure up, fear that we’ll look foolish, fear that we’ll lose success or love or respect. Prejudice is a product of fear. Anger too.
Most people, myself included, allow too many important aspects of our lives to be dictated by the anguish of embarrassment or the dread of what may or may not come to pass. So much of our self-esteem is bound up in what other people might perceive. And that is the polar opposite of healthy.
In the recovery group Co-Dependents Anonymous there’s a saying that goes, “What other people think of me is none of my business.” They have a lot of sayings but that one pretty much sums it all up.
I suspect that being the most sentient creatures on the planet, we’re instinctively bent on hubris. Humans have the biggest brain-to-body ratio so naturally we’ve got control issues. It’s that Power-and-Small-People Syndrome. Basically, as a species we think way too much of ourselves. Take for example your typical road rage. Why does it happen? One word…… Control.
You’re the good driver. You take extra pains to stay in your lane. You mostly come to complete stops, usually signal for turns and stick pretty darned close to those speed limits. Rules are there for a reason. Then another driver breaks the rules right in front of you. And why should THEY be allowed to disregard the letter of the law when you so clearly comply? That’s when the control reflex kicks in and you decide to force him to play by the rules. Of course tensions elevate and tragedy ensues.
We humans fear a lot of really stupid things that constantly land us in trouble. It’s a widely held conviction that any really important decision should never be made when one is in an elevated emotional state. Because nine times out of nine it’s not only the wrong decision but also the worst possible one.
I once read, and firmly believe, that we cannot control our emotions. But… we can control how we react to them.
Some people take issue with that and claim they have full command of all their emotions. If they truly have that power then they’re more disciplined folk than I. My experience doesn’t bear that out. My emotions suddenly arrive out of nowhere like a moth at a porch light. Where did that come from? And even though I’ve always possessed the power to choose how I react, it never really occurred to me to exercise that choice.
Once I did, I started leaning toward the path of least resistance, or rather the path of best resistance. Now when a driver cuts me off, I just stay out of his way. It’s not my job to make him obey the law. His family has to live with him, I don’t.
When I gave my daughter her first driving lesson, I told her, “You have no right — no right — to get angry at someone else in traffic. Most drivers are basically self-absorbed brain donors and when they behave badly it HAS to be what you expected. Always count on it. The only genuine surprise should be when someone actually drives courteously. That, my love, is the rarity and should be your only unanticipated event on the road.”
I give her full credit for taking that to heart. She’s a marvelous driver now and I’ve never seen her upset in the car. At least not because of other drivers.
Yes, fear is the culprit for every negative feeling we encounter. As a writer, I cope with creative fears all the time. Over the years many people who didn’t know me, and a few who did, have suggested I let go of this fruitless dream of being a writer. And there are days I actually consider it.
When you’re on your own, there’s only so much self-induced encouragement and back patting you can muster. Now, whenever taunted by self-doubt, I refer to a sign on the wall over my desk. It simply reads:
“FAILURE IS FAR LESS FRIGHTENING THAN REGRET.”