As I approach my 47th trip around the sun, I cannot help but be reflective on these many years. Anyone who’s known me for a bit of time knows that I’ve “seen some things” in this world. Childhood trauma, group home care, adult trauma and breast cancer – all things that have shown me a lot of humans and humanity.
I am also one who tends to study human behavior. In over 15 years of working directly with persons with various stories (broadcasting, journalism and now in professional storytelling), I have learned a lot about people.
Of the many things that I’ve observed over nearly 5 decades of existence, this has been one of my most prevalent lessons:
The opposite of love is not hate. The opposite of love is fear.
Why do I say this? Hear me out…
First – we have to understand that the human brain is naturally built for a lot of things. Like most mammals who have had to survive on this planet, we’re pre-wired for survival, too. Fight or flight and/or stress reacting, these are just a smidge of the instinctual behaviors that are part of that pre-wiring.
Smithsonian Magazine describes fear as: “… a fundamental, deeply wired reaction, evolved over the history of biology, to protect organisms against perceived threat to their integrity or existence.”
This fear helps us to survive.
To quickly engage the situation and decide if we need to fight or run is hard-wired in us. The psychology of fear, and reactionary human behavior, is a big part of advertising.
What are you afraid of? They’ll bring it up and tell you how their product or service will calm that fear. Home security companies are great at this. Fear of the potential is also used by politicians, organizations, brands – it gets you to your instinctual core and they know it.
This is why conspiracy theories or fantasy scenarios can run rampant quicker than a less-scary fact – because the brain feeds on it. It’s the first stop on the journey of processing a situation.
The problem is: fear is crippling. If we don’t address it and work through it, our brain will – alternatively – feed on that fear even more. We get stuck in that space.
Everything outside gets scarier: other people, ideas, situations, possibilities… It can quickly become a path to isolation. Additionally, if you couple this fear with our natural gravitation towards mob mentality – or finding solace in the equally fearful – dangerous things can breed. “Us versus them” showcases that.
In order to fight this, the brain has to learn.
The brain has to learn that other situations, other people, and even other ideas are “survivable”. It has to experience that the person carrying it will not die if there is interaction with, or the welcoming of, something new. This is done through education and experience.
So while – yes – we are hard-wired for caution, we also are built to learn. That magnificent organ floating around in your noggin’ can learn, grow, evolve – and, it does so rather well, if you encourage it to do so.
But, that requires effort. You have to be willing to push beyond the fear – even deny what built that scary thought in the first place – to get to where the love is. To truly love something or someone you can’t be afraid of it (or them). Fear is paralyzing. You can’t love something if you’re too scared to. You can’t love a world that you’re too afraid to be in.
And let’s be honest – we’re a messy species. We are complicated and emotional. On top of that instinctual feed, it can get “squirrely” in our minds. We mess things up on the regular. There’s solace in us recognizing that fact. Problems arise when we let the fear tell us that we don’t need to grow or learn. That we’re “fine” where and how we are. That’s a lie. Fear likes to lie.
If you’re looking to get to a place of more love – or invite more love into your existence – my suggestion is: first, catalogue your fears. Then push beyond them, one at a time. Take a class. Travel. Interact. Show your brain it can, and will, survive and you will watch it grow. The more you do this, the more you’ll grow in love.
May your 2020 be filled with positive growth that leads you to a more loving space.