By guest blogger: Allison  Quattrocchi

Self-improvement is always on my agenda. I enrolled in a weekend self-awareness workshop, the goal of which was to help people “expand their horizons” and “learn about themselves.” One of the exercises was to sit across from your arbitrarily-chosen partner, a total stranger, and to take turns sharing your “fears,” a word I inherently object to but used specifically by the instructor. The partner was not to react. At that time, I thought it was a rather meaningless exercise and, after having had the opportunity to reflect for a few years, I still think it was a meaningless exercise.

It was my turn. The first round was easy. “My real fear is being financially dependent in my old age.” My partner then reciprocated and rolled out a long list of her fears which included snakes and spiders.

My turn again. “Great,” I thought, ‘This lady lists her fears in quintuplets and I can’t come up with a second. She is either really in touch with her feelings or needs to restrict her living space to a closet.”

I squeezed my brain for more output. Then, lamely, I said, “I’ve given up trying to hang glide.  Does that count?”

My partner looked at me with great empathy. This probably meant she thought I was either woefully unaware in general or I was unwilling to play the game correctly. She was definitely not empathizing with my reluctance to hang glide. Was I now risking being branded unconscious or co-dependent, the latest in all-encompassing clichés? Self-doubt nagged. Perhaps I was afraid of acknowledging my fears. (Oh good, I can use that!) As I ran through this scenario in my head, while simultaneously making an effort to adjust my attitude, my partner rattled off ten more of her fears.

About this time, my confidence reasserted itself and I began to engage my partner in a philosophical dance around the word “fear.”  “Fear” is defined as “a distressing emotion aroused by an impending pain, danger, evil, and so forth, or by the illusion of such,” so says the dictionary. To me that defines a situation that might arise if one were wandering about in the African bush and came face-to-face with a rhino, in which case paralysis or flight, both generated by fear, might be an appropriate response even though neither response would probably do much good – depending on the mood of the rhino.

What we really were discussing in this supposedly mind-expanding exercise were things that might cause a person some concern. “Concern” is a much more benign concept than “fear.” Like most other people, I get tingling sensations in my groin when I look over the edge of a 500-foot cliff, but that response messages caution. If it was fear, I would not have looked over the edge in the first place.

Fear and survival are intertwined. We feel fear for the same reason we have nerve endings. My psyche was not going to allow me to participate in an exercise that defined “fear” as a normal response to the more mundane experiences in life, snakes and spiders included. Fear of snakes and spiders is a phobia which is an unreasonable fear, hence, in my opinion, not within the scope of the exercise.

Words have power and to banter the word “fear” about intimidates the spirit. Fear that interferes with tasting life is more deadly than the cobra.

Recently, a friend of mine called me to inquire about the helicopter ride on Kauai, Hawaii. She was on her way there and I had just returned. She said she was frightened of heights and afraid to take the ride. I could feel my exasperation rising with her comments but I had no right to impose it on her. “You will miss seeing some of the most beautiful scenery in the world,” I quietly implored. ‘Go! If it crashes, it crashes!’ (That probably didn’t help her much.) “Special moments are not always available to us and this will be special,” I promised.

One of my favorite poems expresses this philosophy in a delightful way. It is from “The Lives and Times of Archy and Mehitabel” by Don Marquis. Archy is a cockroach who takes over the Chicago Sun newsroom at night and writes about his trials and tribulations with his good friend, Mehitabel, the cat, who thinks she is the reincarnation of Cleopatra. Because of Archy’s size, he cannot push two keys on the typewriter down at the same time so you have to excuse the fact that there are no capital letters, or, for that matter, any punctuation. To wit:

     the lesson of the moth
 
     i was talking to a moth
     the other evening
     he was trying to break into
     an electric light bulb
     and fry himself on the wires
 
     why do you fellows
     pull this stunt I asked him
     because it is the conventional
     thing for moths to do
     if that had been an uncovered
     candle instead of an electric
     light bulb you would
     now be a small unsightly cinder
     have you no sense
     plenty of it he answered
     but at times we get tired
     of using it
     we get bored with the routine
     and crave beauty
     and excitement
     fire is beautiful
     and we know that if we get
     too close it will kill us
     but what does that matter
     it is better to be happy
     for a moment
     and be burned up with beauty
     than to live a long time
     and be bored all the while
     so we wad all our life up
     into one little roll
     and then we shoot it all
     that is what life is for
     it is better to be a part of beauty
     for one instant and then cease to
     exist than to exist forever
     and never be a part of beauty
     our attitude toward life
     is come easy go easy
     we are like human beings
     used to be before they became
     too civilized to enjoy themselves
 
     and before i could argue him
     out of his philosophy
     he went and immolated himself
     on a patent cigar lighter
     i do not agree with him
     myself I would rather have
     half the happiness and twice
     the longevity
 
     but at the same time i wish
     there was something i wanted
     as badly as he wanted to fry

 

Somewhere between Archy and the moth is reasonable caution and common sense. I doubt that Archy would take the helicopter ride, but then, cockroaches, by their very nature, are probably easily intimidated.

Allison  Quattrocchi’s Bio:

Allison is an attorney, mediator, author, photographer and world traveler. Among the books Allison has authored and co-authored on divorce topics (order on DivorceinaNutshell and azfamilymediationcenter) is bestseller “How to Talk to Your Children About Divorce, which is available on Amazon. Allison and a couple who were her clients were featured on an ABC TV PrimeTime Live Family Secrets documentary (click here to see short video). Allison is available to groups as a speaker and to individuals and businesses as a conflict coach.

Allison has raised three children, indulges four grandchildren and has a high sense of adventure and making her life count. You can learn more about Allison’s rich life at www.dancewitheagles.com.

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