Stop and close your eyes for a second. I bet you can pull up a time when ‘fear‘ was feasting on your guts because something (or someone) was threatening to seriously trash you or some part of your life. Me too. I’ve been there.
It is also true there have been other times when each of us has flexed bloody bare-knuckle courage. I know what it means to stand up and fight for my convictions…for that, which I knew to be true. And yet…here still comes ‘fear‘, all too eager to paralyze my guts and put them back on the menu. How is it possible for both to be true, and simultaneously resident inside the carbon-based carrying case that is me?
As Ripley can attest, the Alien-esque duality I describe actually seems to be the norm. Our natural world is filled with it: Ying and Yang; Day and Night; Hot and Cold; Fear and Love. Language has dual faces too.
With all of its’ nuances, shadings and variations, I’m so impressed by friends for whom English is their second language. And as any kindergartner can tell you, when it comes to speaking another language, it’s easier to learn together. Whether I’m sitting around the lunch table at work or in the check-out line at my local grocery, I often catch myself asking a native speaker, “How do you say _____ in Spanish”…or Japanese, Russian or Arabic? Being able to compare and contrast helps us frame the concepts underneath the rules and syntax of language. Where am I going with all this? Simple. For all the differences, our similarities are stunning.
No matter where you are in the world and no matter your accent, there are some words that appear in every language. Who can forget “Hello”, “Thank You” or “Where’s the bathroom?”. But ranking even higher on all the vocabulary lists, every language has at least one way to say ‘Yes’, ‘No” and ‘Why‘.
YES. The affirmative. The up-and-down nod of the head.
NO. The negative. Shaking your head from side-to-side.
And finally, WHY. Whether as adverb, conjunction or noun, ‘why‘ is usually evidenced by the eyebrows coming closer together with maybe a little lean of the shoulder as you come closer to hear the answer. If you just asked yourself ‘why?‘ only to check if your eyebrows really do scrunch up when you ask “why?”, you get extra credit ;-D.
This past week, I started thinking about how those three little words differ when I change the mask I’m speaking through.
First Face: Fear.
There’s a power word for you. We all understand the feeling. Anyone who has ever watched the Nature Channel knows most the other animals on this planet run the other way as soon as they sense fear. If you’re a bunny rabbit and a tiger comes walking by, you run. Fear, appropriately placed, can keep you alive. But we Humans often take fear and cultivate it into a verb, ‘Hate‘. Animals may fear, but they don’t hate. We’ve got that one all to ourselves. Fears’ mask keeps you shackled to past definitions of yourself. Remember when it was you the kids at school were talking about? ‘Fat’ or ‘stupid’; ‘ugly’ or ‘skinny’; ‘nerd’ or ‘fag’; ‘sinner’ or ‘holy roller’. While I was never a bunny rabbit, fear limited me for years.
Yes. For the longest time, I was afraid of not being able to guess what I thought the other person was expecting me to say. So saying “yes” to anything equated to going along with whatever someone else wanted. I’d rationalize it by telling myself no one could be mad at me for agreeing with them.
No. “No” was equally troublesome. Over time, it came to represent a verbal cue that I was about to surrender. “Anyone got a better idea?” Even when I did, I would hear myself say, “No”.
Why. “Why” was the worst. I now understand that as a little kid, if I didn’t ask ‘why‘, I wouldn’t know reasons behind any decision. And if I didn’t know, it was easier to float by undetected in a raft called denial, on my way to the next waterfall. If you’ve ever gone through the death of a parent or a divorce, you know the agony of ‘why‘. I wonder if it has something to do with why so many kids feel they are somehow to blame for the break-up of their parents. Either way, the dirty little secret about not knowing ‘why’ is how it sets us up for all kinds of heartache. Not knowing also limits our ability to adapt and compromise. It can actually be more dangerous than knowing. Ever seen a ‘No Swimming‘ sign and ignored it without wondering why someone felt it important enough to post the sign? If you’re that swimmer and you’re faced with asking an alligator, it might be too late to be asking much of anything.
Second Face: Love.
Love is another mask appearing in every world language. Love’s perspective is everything that Fear is not. It’s almost like Love is facing the other direction. I know it sounds nuts, but coming at the word ‘yes’ from a perspective of love changes your view on just about everything.
Yes. Whether the question is “Will you go to prom with me?” or “Can you drive me
to the doctor?”, ‘Yes’ makes a profound impact. It changes people for the better.
No. When you’re in the hospital and a loved one refuses to leave your bedside, ‘No’ becomes muscular in an instant. “No, I am…” becomes a declarative statement that leaves very little room for doubt (Doubt being Fears 1st cousin).
Why. Asking this simple one-word question is a natural follow-up to ‘yes’ or ‘no’. Ever seen a 4-year old in the grocery store? “Mommy, I want…” “No.” “Why?” Little kids understand how to challenge their status quo. And a lot of times, they’re successful.
Without the temper tantrums, ‘Why’ is grown-up speak for “I’m not going anywhere until I know”. That kind of commitment is the seed bed of courage. Henry Ford knew it. Martin Luther King knew it and so did Steve Jobs. “OK, you said no, but why?”. You are asserting your standing as one deserving of an explanation. Some of the best trouble an innovator can get into starts with the one-word fuse, “why?”.
Before I go, let me leave you with three little words: I love you.
Fear envies Love. It would rather act on its own instinct to destroy Love rather than unclench, understand and eventually accept its goodness. Poor little insecure “fear”. So what do you do with all of this?
Try coming at the ‘why’ moments in your life from a different direction. Try silently saying to yourself, “I love you” and in the very next second, scan for how your feelings about ‘why‘, change.
Don’t zip through this part. Really take a moment to say to yourself, “I love you” and scan
for how your internal soundtrack starts to change along with your points of reference.
Here’s the crazy excellent part. Your body already knows. Your dopamine and serotonin levels naturally zoom, you begin to smile and those butterflies in your stomach (the good ones) are signaling that your digestive balance will soon be improving.
Say “Love” to yourself the next time you find yourself in a tough situation and your enemies will begin to stutter and stammer. They won’t understand how you’ve converted your energy from paralysis to goodness. They won’t like it, because down deep, their bodies know too. They know the battlefield they used to own has suddenly, inexplicably shifted; and no one asked their permission. How cool is that?
Use ‘Yes’, ‘No’ and ‘Why’ to work out how love can help you conquer your fear. And the next time it shows up, as your other shoe comes down? Don’t worry about it. It’s what shoes are supposed to do. It’s called walking.
“Whether you think you can, or you think you can’t–you’re right.” ― Henry Ford
While I am at the family farm in Indiana this weekend, I though it better to defer to the Beatles who said it best. Enjoy this great vintage clip of the group in the studio:
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