A few days ago, I posted about the fear pandemic that is sweeping the world. While I am very concerned about the fear that is gripping people, I also want to talk about another way I find myself responding that maybe you can relate to. And that is bravado. What I want to do in the face of fear is just pretend like it isn’t real. Like everyone is just overreacting. That way I can just shut my own fear down because there’s nothing to be afraid of. I’ve seen public figures do this as well. They are openly scornful of the fear, and make a show of not being afraid. I find this concerning, both in myself and in the public eye.
Fear is a healthy thing. All living creatures experience it. It is a protection mechanism meant to keep us alive in times of danger. And make no mistake, the danger right now is very real. Not just from COVID-19 either. We place ourselves in statistical danger every single day. Whether that be hurtling through space in metal pods we call cars, or the chance of picking up some kind of pathogen like the flu. We are in danger virtually every day. So fear is natural, and bravado is one of the ways we deal with fear.
Personally, I respond with bravado because I want to give myself a reason to be less afraid, or to manage the way other people see me. For example, I don’t want to be associated with the people who are panic-buying toilet paper, so I downplay my own fear so it doesn’t look like I’m panicking.
That said, I think bravado is foolhardy. At its core, it is basically a lie. Bravado says “There is nothing to fear!” But we can all see quite clearly this is a front. Because the reason to fear is obvious. It’s like someone standing in front of an elephant saying “There is no elephant here. Stop paying attention to the elephant.” When someone is acting in bravado, they look the fool because the rest of us clearly see the elephant.
So what is the alternative? Let’s talk about acceptance.
Acceptance is when you look fear in the eye, thank it for trying to protect you from danger, and then give it a voice in your decision making process. It is about whether fear is the only factor in your decision making, or whether it is just a factor in your decision making. Bravado is a reactive response to fear, which means that fear is still in the driver’s seat of that decision. Acceptance takes fear into consideration, but puts it in the back seat.
Acceptance doesn’t mean you don’t still take precautions. Acceptance might mean you buy a little extra food, or store a little bit of water, or wash your hands frequently. Acceptance means that you listen to your fear, take it into consideration with everything else you know to be true, and give it an appropriately weighted voice. Sometimes the best response to fear is to listen to it. Other times the best response to fear is to run headlong into danger. We call that courage. Bravado says “there is no reason to fear.” Acceptance says “there is reason to fear, and I will take it under advisement.” Courage says “I am terrified of that, and I will do it anyway.”
In these times of uncertainty, let’s try to accept that there is definitely something out there to be afraid of. And then let’s thank that fear for trying to protect us. But most of all, let’s give it an equal voice to gratitude, love, and compassion. I don’t want to fall victim to pretending we shouldn’t be afraid. The elephant is there, plain as day. Everyone can see it. Fear is appropriate. So for myself… “Thank you, fear, for warning me of danger. I am grateful for your voice in my life, as it has kept me safe. I will listen to you, take a few precautions, and then choose to listen to the voice of peace.”