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Sunday, May 19, 2024

The gift of fear

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With Aisha Jallow

I have just finished reading a book with that title, and considered that the title is an oxymoron. That is a very strange word, I know, but here you have some more examples of oxymorons and you will understand what I mean:

o          The apple-pie is awfully good

o          She was terribly pleased with her gift

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o          The gossip is old news

What you can see from these examples, they are contradictory but very common. If you begin to look at it, you will find that it sounds a bit strange to say that something is good at the same time when you say that it is awful. We use these kinds of expressions all the time, and think nothing of it, but I belong to the troublesome kind of people, so of course I have to turn things upside down and inside out.

So back to the book; The gift of fear. Why is fear a gift? Shouldn’t we consider it as a weakness, something we should fight or ignore? The book is written by an American author, Gavin de Becker, who is the nation’s leading expert on predicting violence. What Mr Becker is telling us, is to listen to the survival signals that protect us from violence. In the beginning of humanity, we were forced to follow our instincts, to survive. What we saw was what we knew, but it was the many times unseen that made us react without a thought. In the modern-day world, we are often far from our basic instincts. The more educated we are, the more we frown at instincts and call them old fashioned. We believe that we know everything, that we are in control of ourselves and our surroundings, but are we really that?

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Have you ever experienced a moment, when you have trusted your gut feeling instead of trying to convince yourself not to? Perhaps you have walked somewhere in the night time, the same route you always take, but suddenly decided to take another path. You asked yourself why you did this, and felt a bit silly, but you just felt that something wasn’t right. The author of the book “the gift of fear” is not telling us to see dangers everywhere, but what he is telling us is to be aware of the signals our surroundings are sending us. If everything is as it always has been, then you can relax, but be aware of sudden changes and interpret them swiftly. What are the changes and how will they affect you?

Our senses can also be considered as instincts; eyesight, hearing, taste, touch and smell. We don’t think much of them, as we are so used to them, but many of us have experienced that we lost the sense of taste and smell because of Covid-19. I was one of them, I was seriously infected by Covid in February last year, and it took a long time before I got these two senses back. The sense of smell was the one that took longer before it came back to normal, and in the meantime so much smelled awful. Something good came out of the pandemic, and that is that scientists began to make more research in the area of taste and smell. Eyesight and hearing are the senses where there is so much knowledge already, but taste and smell are neglected.

Why is that, one can wonder? Can’t we survive without these senses? Yes, we can, and we can survive without seeing or hearing too, but it is a matter of life quality. Imagine not to feel the smell of freshly baked bread or not feeling the taste of your mum’s chicken yassa, wouldn’t that feel awful? It is annoying enough to have a cold and not feeling the taste or the smell properly because your nose is blocked, so not to have these senses ever again must be so much worse. Why are these two senses so important? We can survive without the smell of good food, but this is not only a matter of welfare. All the senses we are created with, are the same senses our ancestors had.

We are not much different from the early humans who lived in caves. The shape of our bodies are a bit different, our brains have grown larger, but all the basic attributes are the same. So let us look at our senses, and why these are important for our survival. I will base my examples on what was necessary for our early ancestors, a very long time back before supermarkets were invented.

Taste: if you are searching for food in the nature, and you find something unknown, you taste it carefully. If it tastes good, it will not harm you. If it has a bitter taste, or makes you feel dizzy, it is safer to spit it out and avoid that completely. You don’t want to poison either yourself or your family.

Smell: if you have cooked something and you have nowhere to keep it cool, the food will be spoiled and make you sick if you eat it. I read, a while ago, about a young student who ate spoiled food and he actually died. Yep! He didn’t trust his instincts so bye, bye! Another example, going back to the beginning of humanity: if the tribe, in their search for somewhere to live, found a cave it was crucial to find out if the cave was empty. The cave could be occupied by some wild and dangerous animals, but you could find that out by using actually most of your senses. The smell of rotting prey was the first sign that could be smelled on distance.

Eyesight: scientists have found that men and women see things differently. Ask any woman, and we could have told them that already, but this is a fact in a different way than we first think of. The first humans, who were nomads, were always in the search for food. Women have peripheral eyesight, which means that they are able to see what happens in the corner of their eye. It can be a kid coming to close to the fire, an elderly person stumbling on their walk to a new place to live, or eatable plants which can be picked up without delaying the walk. Men see far away instead, because they were the ones responsible for the hunting and needed to see their prey at a long distance.

Hearing: one of the senses that becomes enhanced if someone loses the ability to see. We have two ears, one on each side of the head so we can discover from where the sound is coming. It is said that a very long time ago, humans could move their ears just as animals are able to. This instinct, to hear is one of them that the author Gavin de Becker has told a lot about. We need to trust our instincts, our gut feeling if you like, to determine if the sounds we hear are normal or something we need to investigate.

All mothers know that if we hear something out of the ordinary, during night time, we wake up immediately. All humans can hear, even when we are sleeping, but our brains ignore the sounds as long as they are the night sounds we are used to. When sleeping in a cave, or at a camp fire, it is even more important to hear the sounds that can tell that you are in danger.

Why is then fear a gift? First of all, we need to separate fear from worry. Worry is in your mind, it is about imagining that something can go wrong. Fear is nothing you can imagine, and those of you who have experienced real fear know what I am talking about.

The sense of fear can save lives, it is making you more alert. Your heart is pumping rapidly so your brain can make faster decisions. Your muscles tense so you can run away or defend yourself. Your digestive system slows down, because your body has more important things to deal with. Your hearing becomes more focused and you only listen to the sounds that matter.

The sense of touch is the last one, and that is a sense that is protecting us from harm. Just think of all the times our parents have warned us from not touching boiling water or fire or petting an unknown dog. All their experiences and mistakes through life, are saving new lives, and that is really what it is all about. Trust your instincts to save your life.

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