Fear. Is not. A choice.

photo via indiewire, with my modifications
“Danger is real. Fear is a choice.”

So says the movie poster I walk by each day, when I step off the train at my stop.
Each day, in reaction to that poster, I start an indignant dialogue in my head.

About how fear isn’t optional. And about how harmful it is that our culture believes it is. About how it doesn’t help any of us to believe that we can easily turn fear off with some internal light switch.
Because it’s much more complicated than that, and it obscures a far more helpful belief:

We can’t control fear. But we can control how we react to it.

Unfortunately, I reckon these two sentences, while far more helpful, compassionate, and realistic, would make a less compelling movie poster.

And that’s the problem. It’s difficult to learn more skillful ways of meeting fear when most people tell you, “don’t be afraid,” and think that will make your fear go away.

It it were that easy to get rid of your fear, you’d have already done it.

It harms each of us individually when the dominant cultural belief is that fear is a choice.
Because then, each time we experience fear, we’ll think it means we’re defective and lacking in emotional control. As a result, we don’t talk about our fear, and no one else ever knows that we’re each walking around with the same secrets that cannot be spoken. I don’t know about you, but what 

I’m describing isn’t a world in which I want to live.

So let’s go somewhere else. Let’s shift to a more realistic, gentle world where we know we can’t control fear, but we can control how we react to it.

What does this world look like?

This is a world where, through allowing ourselves to experience challenging emotions, we empower ourselves.
It’s a world where we have tools to ground ourselves when we’re having strong physiological responses to stimuli.
It’s a world where we’re not hating ourselves because we’re unable to “master” our emotions.
It’s a world where we know that feeling afraid isn’t the end of the world. Because of that, we’re able to take actions that bring us closer to our goals, even when they feel scary.

It’s a world where many more people are able to be brave, because bravery does not necessitate the absence of fear.

It’s a world where you’re able to try anything you want to, because you don’t have to become fearless before you leap.

It’s a world where we know we can sit with our emotions instead of destroying ourselves trying to escape them.

Does this sound like the kind of world you want to live in, too?

Good. Me, too.

Let’s create such a world. Together.

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