Saturday, May 29, 2004

To hell with fear*

People think about their reactions in 2D but live in 3D.

What that means is this: if somebody came to you saying, "I want to write a really funny book using you as the main character and it would make a zillion dollars that I'd split with you and we'd both retire comfortably" you'd probably say Yes, of course, go ahead.

Until the book got written.

Then you would have to deal with the difference between how you *thought* you would react to the book (gentle amusement, vague pleasure at being an immortal literary character) and how you actually *did* react to the book (shame at having your weaknesses exposed, irritation at what the other person thought was funny).

We tend to predict our reactions to situations and to other people with the unconscious assumption that other folks are chess pieces. In other words, we think, "Well, that person will do *this*, so I'll do *that* in response, and it'll work out *this* way." What actually happens is that the other person does that instead of this, you do this in response, and it works out *that* way. We feel off-balance and sometimes more than a little betrayed as a result.

A lot of folks call this tendency "expectation" and caution against having any of it. "No expectations" is to relationships what "No Irish" was to job hunting in the 1890's.

But it's that weird disconnect between how you think you'll react and how you do react that makes life interesting. Not interesting hellish, but interesting interesting.

Take this example: You correspond with a person for years via email. You finally get to meet that person. If you've done this before, you'll know that for some reason, even if you've not seen a picture of them, you'll recognize them at the airport right off, picking them out of a crowd.

You've gotten to know that person free of any inflection. You've never seen their facial expressions, never heard their tone of voice. You don't know that they pause for a slow count of five before answering a question that they think is important. In short, they'll do things you can't predict. But you know them. Well.

For a while, this is disconcerting. You wonder what on earth made you think this person was a friend of yours. If you're frightened of interesting things, you'll stop there, put 'em on the return flight home, and breathe a sigh of relief.

If you're a little more courageous, or willing to fight back your own fear, you'll try to see what the differences are between the person you'd created in your mind and the person in front of you. You'll work out compromises. You'll learn things you never expected to learn. You'll eventually have a synthesis of the person from the email and the person in front of you, a synthesis of 2D and 3D.

This is what makes life worth living. "Comfortable" and "free of fear" are two ways of saying "wrapped up in a blanket, hiding under the bed." You cannot interact with people without being uncomfortable. You cannot do it without fear. The secret to being alive is to learn to say "to hell with fear" and figure out what makes the other person *them*. You have to figure out what makes them interesting to you, what makes them tick, what you can learn from them.

Without that, life would suck.

"But," you say, "if I end up meeting somebody interesting and like them, and they don't like me as much as I like them, I'll feel hurt. Hurt sucks."

At which point I lose all compassion and say Deal With It. Pull your finger out and grow up. Either take the chance, or borrow a blanket and a bed. You get one--ONE--opportunity to do this thing that we're all doing. As far as we know, you don't come back again knowing what you know now. The folks who keep saying that Life Is Not A Dress Rehearsal are irritating, but they do have a point.

Hurt is a part of life. I get hurt every time I open the envelope containing my paycheck. I get hurt every time I like somebody more than they like me. I get hurt every time a patient dies. I get hurt indeed if somebody I thought was a friend does something absolutely shitty, like sleeping with my husband.

But the interesting part of life is there, too. Awful events give you the opportunity to figure out the difference between your perception (2D) and reality (3D). They let you analyze where you were an idiot and where you were right. And they give you the opportunity to behave better, to treat people better, than you ever thought you could.

So you have a choice. You can live, and experience the strange mess of hanging out with other living people, or you can stay wrapped up in a blanket. You can accept the fact that dealing with other people, even the people that you love, will occasionally be uncomfortable and draining and a hell of a lot of work and haggle. You can be open to learning interesting things about boring people. You can find something to be grateful for in every day. Or you can be afraid.

To hell with fear, people. Unwrap the blanket. Pull your thumb out. Accept that reality will differ--sometimes substantially--from your preconceived notions. And do it anyhow.

The most freeing thing in the world is accepting the fact that you will get hurt, be miserable, be heartbroken...and that there's nothing you can do about it. That frees you to live. It frees you to see that really *good* stuff happens too.

To hell with fear. Repeat after me.

To hell with fear.

... ... ...

*Written at the suggestion of my Beloved Sister, who calls me "wise". I didn't tell her that most of the stuff I poured into her ear for an hour was what she's taught me over the years.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...


Thanks :)