Are we being pathetic?

Its somewhat ironic when a newspaper writes at length about how we have become obsessed by risks, and fear is a “constant companion”. With the headline “Scared to death? The REAL worry is today’s culture of fear”

fear2I’m sure the Daily Mail wouldn’t dream of adding to, or capitalise from, any of the fears that plague us today?!

I like this quote from a Professor of Sociology, Frank Furedi, who they have wheeled out for the article:-

“These days we live in constant fear, it is always lurking in the background. We live in terror of disease, abuse, stranger danger, environmental devastation, terrorism, even the sun. We cannot even enjoy the most simple pleasure – the sun – without hearing these warnings about skin cancer.

Likewise eating and food has become a morally charged activity. The massive growth of fear-mongering campaigns and crusades during the past quarter- century is unprecedented. The result is that it diminishes our experience of being alive, it forces us to engage with the world as pathetic individuals who can’t cope with the problems of everyday life.

Wow Frank, don’t hold back! Has our experience of being alive really been diminished by living in fear of disease or terrorism? And are we really pathetic individuals who can’t cope with everyday problems? And what’s this got to do with self confidence, I hear you asking?

Problem Solving

In a way, our ability to deal with daily problems is at the heart of having healthy self confidence. Life is a never ending series of problems, many of which we deal with unconsciously or with very little thought. Most of us don’t spend hours trying to decide what to eat or what to wear (living in a household with four women i know there are exceptions to this!)

When we solve a problem we make a decision, then take action.  With self confidence we won’t question that decision. We recognise that even if it another option would have turned out better, that problem solving involves making a decision based on information available at the time. Hindsight is  a wonderful thing, but we shouldn’t let it undermine our self confidence.

Facing Fear

croc1“The best way to gain self-confidence is to do what you are afraid to do.” ~ unknown author

Fear comes into the equation in different ways. You can allow yourself to dwell on decisions and fear that you made the wrong choice.  Like any worry or negative thinking, this makes you fell worse, undermines your self confidence – but achieves nothing.

Or you can be fearful about the decision if it involves stepping outside your comfort zone in some way.  In Fear is the Key I discussed how in facing our fears we can beat ourselves up by imagining how things may go wrong, how stepping out of our comfort zone will become very uncomfortable. Yet the awful scenarios we create seldom come to fruition.

Now You’re Being STUPID!

In the same paper as the “Scared to Death” article there are two stories that look at doing fearful acts from different perspectives.

One is about a group of 40 children and  adults being rescued from the sea by lifeguards. They had been walking backwards, fully clothed, into the sea as part of a team building exercise. Whilst it doesn’t say so directly, the implication is that the group were helping each other build confidence and bond together by doing something they collectively found fearful.

On the surface this didn’t sound too risky, but without the speedy actions of the local coastguard several of the party could have drowned.  The “walk” took place on a stretch of beach with risks (it was outside the marked safe area for bathing, patrolled by the lifeguards), which the organisers were unaware of.

The other story sounds far more foolhardy, kayaking down a 186′ waterfall! Tyler Bradt took this “calculated risk” to show “what human are capable of achieving”.  I’m not sure how you actually make the calculated risk, in such circumstances, nor that being capable of withstanding such a fall is actually much use. But Tyler comes up with a good quote:-

“I hope it encourages people not to run huge waterfalls but to understand that the only limits that exist are the ones you create, no matter what you are doing.”

We all respond to what information we have available to us at any given time. We can increase our confidence by increasing the amount of information we access.  We can better assess risk, for example, if we have complete information rather than the more sensational facts from a newspaper.

Photos by Mat Honan and Randy son of Robert on Flickr

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Al July 29, 2009 at 11:26 am

Its not just the news media. Advertisers on TV have been increasing using fear as a marketing tool. I’ve recently stopped watching TV due the anxiety its been causing me.

Fred July 29, 2009 at 2:11 pm

Hi David,

A very poignant post.
Perhaps we should totally ignore all reports of doom and gloom and all that is now supposedly not good for us.
If we were to do that, whilst pursuing all that brings happiness into our lives, perhaps our world would be a better place.

Fear can be both constructive or destructive, and it is for us to recognize the difference and use it accordingly.
.-= Fred´s last blog ..How To Enjoy The Internet Lifestyle with =-.

Matthew Kettlewell July 29, 2009 at 6:44 pm

David –

Nice post about fear. Fear is like anything else… .you need to make a decision on what you’re going to do with it. Personally, I tend to stick my pinky toe in the waters of areas that I’m unsure, and then dive head first into whatever endeavor it is that I think is worth the risk.. for some it’s walking backwards in water, others it’s kayaking off of 186 foot cliffs…

For me, it’s all about new experiences, and new opportunities. Scary at first, but worth the end result.

Thanks for sharing David.

.-= Matthew Kettlewell´s last undefined ..If you register your site for free at =-.

Evan July 29, 2009 at 11:12 pm

Good grief. People haven’t been scared before Frank? Those of us old enough to remember the 60’s don’t have to try hard to summon images of mushroom clouds. And he doesn’t deal with issues of whether the fears are realistic or not – eg. whether you aren’t at far more risk of death and injury from a car accident than a terrorist incident.

The only limits are the ones we create? I expect to see him kayaking off a thousand foot waterfall sometime soon without those created limits – like the impact a body can withstand.

Why do we get such irrational nonsense when discussing fear? Perhaps because we are taught to play safe – and we do, leading to resentment? It’s my guess that this is at least part of the answer.

Find yourself with a smile... July 30, 2009 at 1:31 am

Hey David,

Nice post…

I found myself shaking my head from the beginning… a newspaper using fear-mongering while it’s reporting on how scared we have become… I wonder if there’s a connection?… 🙂

And I completely agree… it is crucial that we face our fear, but how this is approached will vary dramatically from person to person.

keep smiling,

.-= Find yourself with a smile…´s last blog ..Peaceful Prosperity Sitemap =-.

David July 31, 2009 at 7:20 am

Thank your all for your comments. I think we all have our lives shaped by fears, whether we’re conscious of it or not. But how much we take the information we receive via the media as “fact” and to what extent we challenge and form our own opinions is my main interest. If we perceive the world around us as dangerous and threatening, its going to affect our confidence in dealing with anything.

Being the Change I Wish to See October 10, 2009 at 11:33 pm

I think real facts are the key. In America, some media (especially those on the far right) are propagating myths as facts and scaring the hell out of those who take their fear-mongering as fact.

I’m speaking of the false government death panels, plots to kill old people, veterans, disabled children, women with breast cancer and Lord knows what they’ll come up with next for their constituents to be afraid of. The fact is people should be more concerned about the fact that 43,570 people die each year in America because they can’t afford to see a doctor when they need to. They should be more concerned about the 46 million Americans who can’t afford or can’t get health insurance, and the fact that your insurance can drop you when you get really sick and need it. They should be more concerned about the 1 million bankruptcies caused by medical debt each year and that our very expensive, exclusive health care lack-of-system costs the most in the world yet yields hugely poor results by anyone’s measure.

90% of what people fear never comes to be. If we stopped to get the facts and ask questions about the real risks we face, we can be 90% less afraid and better armed to deal with the real 10% that probably will happen.
.-= Being the Change I Wish to See´s last blog ..Service Dogs, Prison Inmates and Wounded Veterans =-.

Being the Change I Wish to See October 10, 2009 at 11:38 pm

We are built to be risk-averse because in nature, or feelings of fear were about real fear and real survival. Now that we don’t have to fear being attacked by wild animals or other tribes (fight or flight response) we can’t just shut off our natural instincts to be wary of our surroundings. Some say we fear little things because we have nothing big to fear anymore. Maybe that’s part of it. We don’t fear the real possibility of being killed daily, so we find other things to fill that void of natural anxiety, to the point that we fear things that are of no consequence.
.-= Being the Change I Wish to See´s last blog ..Service Dogs, Prison Inmates and Wounded Veterans =-.

Twitter for Business November 8, 2009 at 8:20 am

Excellent stuff. I've totally stopped watching the news or reading newspapers. The majority of the time, the news media are just peddling press releases from the police, government or PR companies.

If you focus on fear, you'll get more of it. Well done on a great post.


Twitter for Business November 8, 2009 at 2:20 pm

Excellent stuff. I've totally stopped watching the news or reading newspapers. The majority of the time, the news media are just peddling press releases from the police, government or PR companies.

If you focus on fear, you'll get more of it. Well done on a great post.


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