Learned


I must go, the is ringing.


They say that you’re only born two fears: the fear of falling and the fear of loud noises. All other fears are learned. 

With something as irrational and primal as fear, it sometimes seems impossible that the thing that makes your heart race and your skin to go clammy with a cold sweat is something that your mind, at some level, has chosen to be afraid of. If a fear can be learned then can it be unlearned? Is an unlearned fear the same as not being afraid in the first place? 

I sometimes wonder how I came to have so much anxiety around phones. I’ve fought with this for much of my adult life, and although I have achieved a certain tolerance for the task of making and answering phone calls, I still feel a clenching of the instincts that tell me that I should prepare for danger. Was there once a phone call, which I no longer remember,  in which there was some kind of danger? Was I once frightened or, perhaps, embarrassed something that happened during a phone call that rewired my brain to associate phone calls with feelings of vulnerability? 

It is the vulnerability that I fear, I think. There is a kind of helplessness that the telephone imposes on a caller: there is no way to read the other person. There is no way to know what context they are on while you speak to them. Your only tools of communication are words and tone, which must be used in real time without time for reflection. By contrast, I have no such fear of public speaking in which it is possible to take the temperature of the audience and in which statements can be prepared in advance and communicated through body language as much as through words. 

If I can struggle with such a tedious fear as a fear of phone calls, what does that mean for the major fears? If I struggle to calm myself at the sound of a ringtone, how do I fight the fear of injustice or of helplessness or of self worth? These too are learned fears of a somewhat more consequential nature. How do I overcome the fear of being unheard? How do I fight back against the whispers that tell me that my value is worthless? Where do I turn when the people all around me are just as lost for a direction? I question whether these larger fears  are the kind of fear that makes me stronger, wiser, better or if they are the fears that makes me weak, distrustful and paranoid. Again I find myself vulnerable and again I find that it is the vulnerability that I fear.

In a few minutes I will arrive at work where I will sit at the reception desk of my office with a pounding heart for forty minutes, facing my fear of the telephone until I am able to sufficiently distract myself with larger matters. I suppose the greater fears are to be dealt with in much the same way: facing them each day with a pounding heart, carrying on in spite of the fear, and turning my attention to larger matters. Because the phone still needs to be answered, no matter what I feel about it, and I need to answer the call. 

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~ by Gwydhar Gebien on November 9, 2016.

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