Fear is a four-letter word

June 5, 2008

SJ and I have been texting each other about fear, and what we do to cope with our fear. As usual, it is very different.

For example, we are both concerned about the political situation. Her solution to this is to become politically involved, because knowing that she is doing something helps her to feel that the world is less chaotic. I step away from it, believing that my impact is minimal at best. Instead I turn my attention to areas where I think I can be of some use, like helping someone I know personally or through my work.

She confronts her fear directly. I walk away from mine.

She connects to reality. I create a different reality.

She immerses herself in the truth. I am happy to ignore it and stick my head in the sand if it means I can live to fight another day.

She considers herself to have an obligation to become involved politically, to use her energy in the service of the greatest cause she can find. (Her words: “I can’t do much by myself, but most of history is lots of people doing a little. And I want to be one of those people.”) I consider myself to have an obligation to go where I am most useful, to pick the arenas where I am best able to function, even if they are not the largest and most important.

One could argue that these methods are polar opposites of one another.

Or, of course, one could argue that these methods are identical, except that she believes that she can have an effect on the political situation and I don’t.

I think the answer is somewhere between the two. If I believed I could change the political landscape, would I use my energy there? I don’t think I would, because I’d also have to believe it used my signature strengths. The people I admire in politics have the strengths of bravery, fairness, citizenship, honesty and integrity, diligence and zest – what my family would call ‘the courage of their convictions’.

I am not that person. I am closely related to two career political advisors, and although I admire them both, I find that we are very different. My strengths are in seeing both sides of the argument rather than passionately pursuing one side; in providing support and nurturing to the people on the battlefield rather than following them there; in helping people to connect with each other and build together rather than designing or leading the building. Maybe there are roles for people like me on the political landscape, but I have not yet found them.

This year I will not be doing much except studying and recovery, because I am really quite ill and quite tired. But I hope and expect to recover in due course, and when I recover I hope that my practice will grow. I do want to do work that helps others, and that helps others beyond the small circle of people I know.

But I want to do it using my strengths. I believe that this is what I’m here to do, this is where I can add most value to the world, whatever pitch I’m playing on. I believe that, when I’m using my strengths, I am myself stronger: more energised, more confident, more truly myself.

And less afraid.


7 Responses to “Fear is a four-letter word”

  1. Sarah Jane Says:

    Of course, I was brought up in a tradition of activism. I don’t think it would be exaggerating to say that I was taken on CND marches in my pushchair. It took me years to stop automatically avoiding the South African fruit in supermarkets. We had free-range eggs and roll-on deodorants back when everyone else still had battery eggs and aerosols. If I was ten years older I would totally have gone to Greenham Common.

    I wouldn’t touch mainstream politics with a bargepole. But I’ve seen the opinions of the pressure groups my parents followed when I was a child, and the groups I joined at university, become increasingly mainstream. Twenty years ago only cranks and sf fans had even heard of climate change. Now only cranks don’t recognise that it’s happening. And I’m pretty sure that most environmental pressure groups could use my financial skills, if nothing else (I suspect that creativity and humour would also be useful, and I’d be bloody good at writing press releases and publicity).

    I really should try to get in touch with the transition town people.

  2. Sarah Jane Says:

    And this says it much better than I’ve managed to.

  3. Awesome link, SJ! Thank you.

    F – I think you are both striving for the same thing, which is to say, trying to make the world a better place in the best way(s) you know how. Since psychology has names for this, it seems to me that SJ has a more internal locus of control, whereas yours is more external. Both seem to be perfectly valid coping mechanisms.

    I really must put my thoughts on this in writing, though possibly not tonight, as I’m knackered.

  4. Francesca Says:

    That’s really interesting – I would have said the exact opposite.

  5. Well, I admit that my concept of LOC isn’t a sophisticated one. But yours seems to involve placing responsibility for your life with a higher power, whereas to SJ, the buck stops with her. Not to say that you don’t set great store by your own responsible behaviour, because you clearly do, more so than almost anyone I’ve ever met.

    *ponders some more*

  6. Francesca Says:

    I can’t really get into this here, because it would involve saying things about SJ that I don’t have her permission to say. Give me a call if you want me to elaborate further.

  7. Sarah Jane Says:

    CB – I certainly agree with your assessment of me. And I think this comes back to the faith and reason discussion from the other week. If I believe in a higher power at all it’s the power of collective action – together we can be more than the sum of our individual strengths – but that power only works if people like me are prepared to be part of it.

    F – I would be interested to hear your thoughts on this, too.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: