Wednesday, May 2, 2012

A Lesson on Fear

The other day we were at the USA Science and Engineering Festival in DC. Unexpectedly, I received a very interesting lesson about fear while I was there.

There were exhibits about a huge variety of things, robots, building blocks, skulls, tornadoes and hurricanes, robotic fish, anatomy, and even the Magic School Bus. It was lots of fun and a bit overwhelming in the amount of information, but well worth the trip.

Almost everything was interactive including the part about bugs. I don’t normally have a problem with insects and sharing space with them. I do have an issue with eating them as they were offering the opportunity to do and which one of us who shall be nameless, Bill, did partake of!

The lesson came in relation to a tarantula. Spiders are wonderful creatures that can teach us a great deal if we care to observe and listen, but they are also not my favorite creature to be in close proximity to. Most insects I will gently invite to go outside if I would rather not have them in my house. I can do this with spiders also, but for them I generally use the cup and piece of paper method of removal. It may all go back to my youth when my older sister captured a spider for me once and I asked her if she was sure she got it? She of course said, yes and proceeded to open the tissue she had squished it with to prove it to me. Well of course the spider was not dead and the minute she opened the tissue the spider leaped out, right towards my unsuspecting self creating much screaming and running!

So as we proceeded down the aisle of insect related booths and I saw the man standing in the middle of a crowd of squealing children with a tarantula on his hand I had a moment of hesitation. We quickly joined the circle around him though and truthfully I was not really afraid of holding the tarantula under those circumstances. I knew it wouldn’t hurt me and for some reason it was not as scary as a tiny leaping spider. However, I found there was an old pattern there nonetheless.

This man was a great proponent of spiders. As I waited in the circle for my turn to hold it he handed it to a little girl standing in front of me. She was a tiny thing of maybe five years old. She flinched a little but basically had no problem with this tarantula. I stood above her and told her how brave she was. That was the wrong thing to say before a tarantula loving man. He looked at me in all seriousness and said, “Actually, it’s not brave at all because there is nothing for her to be afraid of.”

I knew instantly that he was right and instantly felt that maybe she was actually taller than me after all. I was trying to be supportive of her but instead was only contributing to creating a fear in her that was unfounded. Can tarantulas bite people? Sure, but it’s rare. As he was quick to point out, they may take an aggressive stance to ward off potential predators (like humans) but they rarely bite them. They much prefer to scare their predators away.

It was a reminder in an unexpected way of the power of fear and the need to not perpetuate it. Clearly our minds can create ways of supporting those fears without us even noticing. Or perhaps with us even believing we are being supportive like I thought I was.

Is it brave to face your fears? Sure. I held that tarantula and enjoyed the experience without fear. But I think it also took bravery for him to point out my prejudice and perpetuation of fear and for me to look that in the eye in addition to the tarantula. Thank you to my friends in learning, large and small, who may never know they taught me such a valuable lesson. 

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