Relinquish your ownership of the fear narrative.

November 14, 2011

Have you ever had the misfortune of having a conversation with someone where no matter how openly you agreed with them, you were still wrong about something?

Fear makes us uncomfortable, and knowledge makes us proud. Discomfort and pride both make us cling tightly to what we believe. As such, sometimes we have inflexible interpretations of words. This allows someone else to be wrong so we can be right.

In the realm of the self-helpy Fear.less-type stuff, we all have highly individual interpretations of the following buzzwords:

  • fear
  • fearlessness
  • authenticity
  • dreams
  • goals
  • transparency
  • not giving a [expletive of your choice]
  • acceptance
  • tolerance
  • self-worth
  • destiny
  • unconventionality
  • success
  • failure
  • matter (be important, e.g. “work that matters”)
  • faith
  • knowledge
  • reason
  • possibility
  • compromise
  • art
  • balanced
  • roughly 12,000 others
We have our own ideas of what these words mean, and that’s why it’s so critical to engage in discussion instead of tweets, even if the discussion is with oneself.
You have to be willing to step into someone else’s fear narrative and get beyond their precise definitions of things in order to reach their core message. You don’t have to categorically agree or disagree with someone’s philosophy; you can accept or deny pieces of it as they resonate with you.
I’ll use “goal” and “dream” to illustrate the opposite. Here’s something I see all the time: somebody drops the D-word and someone else feels compelled to shout “I don’t have dreams, okay, I have goals, okay, dreams are vague and goals are specific and you’re TAKING ACTION to achieve goals. So you enjoy (not) eating your pie in the sky while I actually get stuff done.”
This person has such a tight grip around the rhetoric that they’re missing the point. “You see, your problem here is that you have dreams.” Wow, insightful. They also probably flip through TV channels and skip over The Simpsons because in their world, people aren’t yellow.
We want to feel enlightened. On some level, this means being separate from the dopes who are not enlightened. We have the light. We know exactly what the words mean. Other people don’t. The fools.
I get that we live in a hustling society and that tweets and blog posts and website copy need to be as short as possible. But if you want to participate in someone else’s fear narrative instead of burying them under your own, that takes more detail and effort than figuring out how to advertise a glorious new iPhone app. Taking the time to understand and respect exactly what someone is saying is a scarce skill, and it helps with both giving and receiving aid in the fight against fear.

photo by Todd Jordan

{ 2 comments… read them below or add one }

Darci November 15, 2011 at 12:01 am

You see this focus on rhetoric a lot in politics, and I’ve always wondered if people do this knowingly, to distract from the main point of the debate when they are losing an argument. Or perhaps they are truly just not that self-aware?


Alasdair December 14, 2011 at 10:22 pm

I think you are referring to what they call a red herring.


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