Sometimes I’m out at a bar or I see students in the halls of the school where I work and they seem so sure of themselves; maybe inside they’re devestatingly terrified of everything but their exterior shows no cracks or worn spots; they walk and live in complete confidence. They stride easily through their own lives and observers like myself wonder, how can they be so brave and comfortable in their own existences?
I’ve found that life is a series of experiments and tests. It’s like that episode of the Simpsons where Lisa does the science fair experiment entitled, “Is My Brother Smarter than a hamster?”; one of her tests involves reaching for a treat and getting a shock; the hamster reaches for a pellet, gets a shock, and does not reach for the pellet again. Bart Simpson on the other hand, reaches for the cupcake, gets continually punished, and continually tries to get the cupcake. The hamster learns its lesson, thus maybe proving Lisa’s point of her experiment.
But I tend to disagree with the point Lisa Simpson was trying to make. In life… we occasionally step out and try something; if it doesn’t work, the wisened and newly-hardened versions of ourselves learn from the failure. We don’t try again, whereas the Bart Simpsons among us, the people who throw caution to the wind and are persistent in achieving their goals, even in pain and/or discomfort, try and try and try, and failure does not phase them at all. I don’t think that makes someone stupid. I think it makes them simple maybe, and reckless.. but brave.
When I was a kid, I used to climb trees and stand on top of monkey bars and dig around in the mud in my alley way. I would ski arrow-straight down a hill and climb up rocky hillsides. When I was a simple little kid, I didn’t think of the risks associated with any of the things I was doing. Perhaps one absolutely requires a consequence to learn a lesson. I believe this to be true indefinitely; I was never injured or poisoned or anything as a result of these things, and so I didn’t think they could happen to me. But suddenly the question becomes, what if the “lesson” doesn’t need to be learned at all, but our consciousness uses a negative consequence of a signifier to be aware in the future?
Let’s say someone falls in love and they get hurt deeply because of it. They say, wake up one day and realize they think they’re legitimately going to die of a broken heart, regardless of how dramatic, aimless and immature this seems. Later on down the road, they meet someone else and develop romantic feelings. But suddenly, they remember the time they were heartbroken. It’s not worth the risk perhaps; that incident cut so deeply, it was incomprehensible. Suddenly, the prospect of falling in love is associated with a consequence. And a chance isn’t taken, because of fear. Maybe that’s the biggest risk they’ve ever taken; it pulled them intensely far far away from their comfort zone and they were in disbelief that they themselves had actually done what they did. If that risk is followed by an extremely negative reaction, they are unlikely to be brave and bold and risky again. They are likely to think it’s not a good idea to take risks, and close the door on any upcoming ones. Because, why would you want to be hurt again? You’re not like Bart Simpson.
So my question is, how does one cross that barrier again? Or is it just a one-way door that once passed through, automatically locks? Can you recover from retreating into a state of reproachfulness and fear? Is there a way to get back what you lost by failing and being too afraid to try again?
I feel like in my life I slip more and more into a routine of comfort and safety. I think that if my life demanded it, I might – I MIGHT be able to take even a small risk. But it would take everything in me to do it. I don’t like new situations or encountering the unfamiliar; I don’t like thinking about taking a chance; I don’t like reading news or replies to my emails because I legitimately fear a response. I live in paralyzing fear of the unknown and this fact dissuades me from doing almost anything that might be considered even remotely “brave”. I can trace this back to an incident in which I took a very deep risk and there was in return, a very devestating consequence. I want back the bravery that I cherished about my personality.
I just wish wish wish wish soooo badly that I could have that again.