Do you know what the number 1 fear is? Not death. Death is only #2. #1 is public speaking. Do you know what this means? At a funeral, more people would rather be in the coffin than giving the eulogy. Do you think the corpse ever looks up and says “At least I’m not that guy?” — An old Jerry Seinfeld joke
As I’m sure you all know, I adopted my pseudonym “Scarecrow” from my favorite villain in the Batman universe. But not a lot of people know about this Scarecrow. Dr. Jonathan Crane was a professor of psychology at Gotham State University. A lot of his colleagues were put off with his unnatural obsession with fear. He would get an almost perverse thrill from making people live out their darkest fears, and then documenting the reactions. It wasn’t long before Dr. Crane developed a fear toxin, making people’s fears come to life in frighteningly-real hallucinations. It wasn’t long before his methods raised the ire of the administration, and he was soon booted off the campus, his funding cut. Not being able to continue with his research, Dr. Crane snapped. He donned the guise of the physical incarnation of complete terror — the Scarecrow — and set about robbing from banks to fund his research, and using the innocent people of Gotham as his subjects. Of course, he soon ran up against Batman. Unlike most villains, who seek to kill Batman, the Scarecrow’s delight would be seeing Batman curled up in the fetal position, scared out of his mind. I bring this up because I’m a person filled with irrational fear.
Lately I find I’ve been developing a fear of driving. Seriously. For example, I could be going into the city for the day (something that doesn’t happen because, between my mother and my sister working, I never have a vehicle). I’ll begin plotting my route; all the places I want to go, and then this little scenario will pass through my head. I’ll be turning out of an intersection, but my wheels get stuck in the snow, and while I’m spinning there, trying to get going, a big rig will come around the corner, hit me, and I’ll die an untimely death. Then, suddenly, I don’t want to go into the city anymore. When I’m driving down the highway, and I enter Edmonton city limits, my heart will start beating just that much more, and I’ll break out in cold sweats. I don’t know why. It’s gotten to the point that I’d much rather someone else drive.
And then there’s spiders. This is the picture-perfect example on how the movies can affect a person’s life. I was OK with spiders until I saw the movie Arachnophobia. Ever see it? It’s about this large spider from South America who escapes to a small town and soon breeds a whole race of killer spiders that begin terrorizing the town. That’ll make you afraid of spiders. Especially the climax, where our hero faces off against that large spider.
Probably my most irrational fear is being abducted by aliens. It’s the most irrational because there’s such a slim chance it’ll ever happen to me. But still, if I’m in a car, driving down a darkened highway in the middle of the night, it’s not long before my mind wanders and I think I see something in the sky, inducing a low-level panic attack.
And then there are things that would scare a normal person, but don’t scare me. Like public speaking. I actually enjoy public speaking. It probably grows out of the fact that I’ll never live my dream of being an actor, so this is the closest I’ll ever get to being on stage. But to get up in front of a crowd and say my piece, no problem whatsoever! The best example of this would be in one of my physics classes. When we were given the task of doing an oral presentation, every one groaned. I cheered. Everyone else did some kind of multimedia display, so they could hide in the back of a darkened room, changing slides and reading narration. I purposely avoided using the projector, and instead opted to do a demonstration. And believe me, it is very difficult to demonstrate the paradox of Schrödinger’s Cat.
So why do we fear the things that we do? I can’t remember where I originally heard it, but someone once said that fear is the little voice in our head that keeps us from doing stupid things. Would the world really be a better place if we were all fearless? Generally, all we can think of is the improvements if we had no fear. “I wouldn’t be afraid to talk to that cute person,” you might say to yourself, or “I wouldn’t be afraid to hop on an airplane and go visit Aunt Idi.” But the drawbacks would begin to take effect. You might start thinking “I’m not afraid to rob this bank,” or “I’m not afraid to walk across this busy, 12-lane freeway.” When given in that respect, fear is very much a good thing.
But there can always be too much of a good thing. Perhaps you’ve heard of agoraphobia. This is a fear of people. This fear has been known to be so devastating that people will not leave their houses anymore for fear of meeting someone new. For someone like me, I have no grasp of this. How can someone be afraid of other people? This sounds odd to me, but I’m sure it feels perfectly rational to the person at the time. This person might look at me and go “How can you be afraid of spiders?” But I am. And they are. Fear is funny that way. You never know exactly when or where it’ll affect you and what form it will take.
I shouldn’t be dwelling on it, but I can’t help it. Many view fear as a weakness and from day one we are constantly urged to conquer our fears. We’ve all been presented with the cartoon or sitcom plot where one of the characters faces their fears, only to see there is nothing to be afraid of and have that fear vanquished for good. That’s not the case. Do you know how many times I’ve encountered spiders? I always whisper to myself “there’s nothing to be afraid of,” but I always scream and run. Fear is never fully vanquished. But it can be controlled. It is possible to not let it dominate our lives. Only when it dominates does it become dangerous.
That’s what my namesake preys upon. The pure, uncontrollable irrational fear. And that’s why Batman is always able to defeat him. He’s got a handle on his fear. He doesn’t let it dominate. How come the good guys always have a handle on their fear? They just control it a little better than most. If forged properly, fear can become courage. And that’s all what we could use a little more of.