Monday, December 5, 2011

Fear & Danger - What scares you ?

PLEASE NOTE. I am NOT a qualified Counsellor, Psychologist or Psychiatrist and I have no formal training to advise on these matters. The following is merely my personal opinion based on the experience of a life in the Armed Forces  and a healthy regard for protecting my own skin.

A friend of mine recently admitted to a fear of heights. That is a reasonable and legitimate fear, however at the same time such fears must be confronted and quantified. The key to confronting all forms of fear, provided such fears have a rational basis, is knowledge. Fears that have no rational basis are classified as Phobias and require the help of a professional to address. The Oxford dictionary defines 'PHOBIA' as  - an abnormal or morbid fear or aversion.

My friend nominated Ladders and Lookouts as specific fears along with a general fear of dealing with heights. Rightly so - but in order to address those fears knowledge of their nature needs to be applied. For example a ladder can quite rightly be a fearful object but if one applies knowledge then that fear can be confronted, understood and reduced to a reasonable state of caution. There is no question that ladders are a potential source of fear - try climbing a rickety old ladder at night in the middle of a thunderstorm! But if one applies knowledge - is the ladder soundly made by a reputable manufacturer to a recognised standard and is that ladder correctly placed and anchored in a manner to suit the conditions under which it is being used?  Then that knowledge provides a measure to assess the risk of using the ladder under those conditions. The fear has been confronted - the risk has been assessed and the user can decide to proceed, exercising the necessary amount of caution or  - if the risk is to great based on  the knowledge of the ladder and the conditions under which it is to be used then elect not to proceed at all.

I believe that all rational fears can be assessed and quantified by knowledge. The fear associated with stepping onto a lookout over a high precipice can be assessed before stepping onto that lookout. Is the ground around the lookout firm, are the paths leading up to the lookout in good condition, is there adequate safety railing and are other people using or have used the lookout immediately before you? Is the lookout overcrowded or are some of the observers behaving in a stupid or dangerous manner? - could their behavior affect your own safety? Assess these observations and make a rational decision of whether it is safe to use the lookout yourself.

Fear is a basic instinct that helps us preserve our own safety and even our life. The person with no fear is foolhardy and a danger to others and to themselves. Conversely fear can drive an unprepared person to irrationality if there is no knowledge of the risk associated with that fear. Some risks cannot be prepared for and that in itself induces fear. The big danger in these circumstances is the onset of panic. A sudden and unexpected event such as fire, earthquake or being attacked while walking home down a dark street can produce a sudden and dramatic rush of fear that often leads to panic in the unprepared. But once again the gaining of knowledge of the risk can bring a measured and calmer response if the situation is prepared for BEFORE it happens. If you live in an earthquake prone area or in a rural setting where bushfires are a reality then it is logical to seek advice and devise a plan of containment. It may never happen but if you don't prepare - and it does - then panic will undoubtedly be a real  possibility.

A person who is required to walk home down a dark street on a regular basis is obviously more likely to be fearful of attack than one who does not - BUT - anyone - even the most cautious of souls can find themselves suddenly in that position. If you are a lumbering 6 foot 4 monster with a face that only a mother could love - and you are built like King Cong then the risk of being attacked is probably slim but if you are a normal person - particularly with no knowledge of self defence then it could conceivably happen at any time. We have all heard of people being attacked in car parks and even shopping centres in broad daylight. Once again the defence is Knowledge.

As a serviceman I was trained to observe the environment around me and to be aware of approaching potential threats. I constantly observe people putting themselves at risk by being totally unaware of the temptations they present to loitering opportunists. Motor vehicles left unlocked - with the windows down and even keys left in the ignition, doors and windows of the home left unlocked when the occupants retire for the night, women leaving their purses unattended in shopping trolleys, men displaying large sums of money in their pockets or wallets. All these examples have a common denominator.  Lack of knowledge and lack of preparedness. Dangerous situations - and the fear associated with those situations can present at any time.

I am not advocating that we all surrender to paranoia and rush out to learn Martial Arts, or surround the family home with a fortified mote but I do believe a lot of dangerous situations, and the fear associated with their occurrence, can be mitigated by a common sense approach and a working knowledge of preventative measures.

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