All for One, and One for All

by Jinryu

It’s not that I’m not afraid of being in front of the room.  It’s just that I’ve practiced it– to the point where I can move in spite of that fear.

Fear is a very interesting word when you look at it. When you think about it, it’s very similar to what we feel when we’re excited.  Our temperature goes up, our adrenaline starts leaking into our bloodstream, our heart speeds up and there is this sense of urgency and anticipation.

Well, if the Inuit people have 16+ different ways of saying “snow”, maybe that just means we have at least two ways for describing this emotion we face– this fear/excitement.

There are other things that seem to have the same sympthoms– ecstasy, bliss, etc.  Yet we’ve somehow managed to tune ourselves and practice those emotions and feelings so that, despite largely the same indicators as fear, we like these things. In fact, we usually seek them out.

I’m of the opinion that any strong emotions are really moments when we allow ourselves out– where we let go of our restraints and just do what we probably really want to do.  That’s why if you’re too serious, you can’t laugh for real.

When you see someone who is a good crowd pleaser, do you really think he’s not afraid?  There are, in fact, some people who are mentally unable to feel that fear– but for the rest of us, the truth is that we’re always afraid. We’re always anxious.  It has a lot to do with us being social animals that people don’t have to be holding spears to us– the mere gaze of other humans makes us self conscious and imposes upon us a feeling of supression.

But really– those who still operate in front of the class do so in spite of their fear.

Fear has three elements– the physical, the mental, and the spiritual.  When you’re afraid, your body clams up.  Muscle tension goes haywire– so either when you’re called from your seat to take the podium, your legs don’t respond to get you off your chair, or when you do stand up, you’re so tense that your muscles are fighting eachother with antagonistic contractions and you’re shaking.

On the mental front, fear complicates your thoughts by making you think of what can go wrong.  This takes away from what you’re supposed to be doing in front of everyone because when you’re supposed to be thinking about your subject, you’re instead thinking about how you look or what the people in front of you expect.  While those things are important to a certain degree, the problems arise because of a lack of moderation.

On the ‘spirit’ side, it has to do with restraint.  A lack of confidence, in my opinion, is actually just too strong a restraint.  There’s nothing wrong with giving a speech– and yet, the reasons why people clam up in terms of willpower and charisma are largely because they’re experiencing something that feels a lot like shame.  When the restraints are on, your physical and mental game suffers because the spirit, your force of will, isn’t giving them the fuel, it isn’t giving them the electricity you need.

Now, there are three domains (at least, you could probably think up more) that you can go wrong with.  Any one of these domains that I’m weak in on a particular day can cause poinson damage– a lack of willpower (maybe translating to a lack of interest in what I’m presenting) could leak into other domains, making my body language sluggish or my verbal responses less sharp (assuming the scenario of public speaking).  You could always go wrong in a billion ways.

But there is hope! You can go RIGHT in a number of ways too.

You hear sometimes in a boxing  where the coach says “Don’t think! Don’t be fancy!  You’ve pumped more iron than he has, and you’ve been through a lot more shit worse than this. Just go in there and show him what you’re made of!”  What does that mean? It means that the person’s mental game is breaking down– intelligence in tactical choice and cunning is breaking down.  So what is the boxer told to do?  The boxer is told to brandish his physical condition and spirit, 110% to make up for that dip.  Maybe the mental will wake up.  The point is, when in an opressive situation, you work with your strengths to try and compensate or bring to par your weaknesses.

Conversely, when a boxer is hurt, the coach tells him: “You’re going to have to outbox him– be smart, and show no fear!  Let him gas himself out, but hang in there until the end of the round!” To take the shift away from the physical damage someone has suffered, the gameplan is shifted to the available tools– smarts and willpower.

And I think that this is a problem that we all face, myself included– that when we have a problem, we dwell on it too much.

I mean, it is useful for me to know what the problem is.  But I need to fix it– and some problems really don’t fix themselves.   I need to fix it with other tools at my disposal.

Or, I need to stall and keep moving forward, carrying the problem forward, to see if a change in scenario makes a solution available in the future.

If we are composed of a physical, mental and spiritual game, you can think of our forward moving ability as being equipped with redundant backup systems.  If your car pops a tire, you put on a spare– it’s handicapped, sure, but in the meantime, the other tires will pull the lame one through, and offer a chance to change the scenario so a previously unfixable problem (you don’t have an extra, fullsize tire) might become fixable.

Strengths aren’t just specialties, is my point.  People say they’re good at this and bad at this– but in reality, what’s the difference?  Why is there this distinct divide between our weaknesses and our strengths?  Why do we compartmentalize things like that?

We should NEVER be content to disconnect ourselves from ourselves.  Being myself is a ‘team effort’.  If one of my three guys is not pulling his weight, then the others have to help him– no man gets left behind.  We take the wounded forward and hope that we run into a positive change of scenario– the metaphorical field medic just over the next hill.

But we should never stop going forward.  Take a rest, sure– but keep your eyes on the ball.  If you’re in trouble, you have to press forward with momentum if nothing else and see if your failing systems can come online.

This is why ’emergency procedures’ of various sorts are invented, like, for example, a fire drill.  If you feel the building shake suddenly, and you hear a loud boom, there’s a fire in your building, you don’t know mentally what to do– what do you know about fighting fires? You probably don’t even know WHERE the fire is.  Willpower?  Willpower for what? You don’t know what’s going on, how could you direct any willpower at it? You’re probably scared shitless.

So you have the signs.  The fire drill procedurs written on the maps and whatnots– to give you a physical means of changing your scenario and giving you something concrete to operate on in spite of your fear.

That’s what dealing with fear really is– it doesn’t mean crushing it. It means attempting to use what you have to operate under scary conditions.

And you know what? When you think about it, the difference between us and firemen is that they have the physical, mental and spiritual toughness that we don’t– they weren’t born with it, they trained for it.  They made themselves tools.