Sidewalk Inspiration: Question Fear

On a walk, this sidewalk plaque caught my eye: "Thea Foss (1857-1927): Although she was afraid of the water, The Foss started her own company renting and selling rowboats. By the 1890's she had a successful tug boat company called Foss Launch & Tug Co., Inc." I had no idea who Thea Foss was so I looked her up. Turns out she was the real-life inspiration behind "Tugboat Annie", featured in films (the 1940 sequel stars a very young Ronald Reagan), a TV series, and a series of stories in The Saturday Evening Post. An immigrant from Norway, Foss went on to found and operate one of the largest tugboat companies in the Pacific. Tacoma's Foss Waterway Seaport is named after her, recognizing her contribution to the city's economic development.

For anyone who has been through trauma, an important lesson is learning to recognize our fears and assess whether to act on them and how. Fears can be real or imagined. They can be greater or less than the actual threat warrants. We can deny our fears. We can also choose to approach, avoid, or question them. Because we rely on heuristics (things that we encounter more often, in the news for example, are more salient in our minds), we find it very difficult to objectively assess risk.

This long read on FiveThirtyEight -- "Many Americans Are Convinced Crime Is Rising In The U.S. They’re Wrong. But their fear makes everyone less safe." -- is a great example of how we can convince ourselves that there's a clear and present threat when there isn't. At the same time, abuse survivors also struggle with having their real situations of danger and threat ignored or minimized. So finding that balance between healthy skepticism and trusting/acting on one's instincts is something that requires constant practice.

The Work by Byron Katie offers a good framework to interrogate our fears:

1. Is it true?

2. Am I absolutely sure it is true? (What makes me so sure?)

3. How do I react when I believe that thought?

4. Who would I be without that thought?

Our system 1 is constantly being high-jacked. We need to cultivate system 2 (Check out Nobel Laureate Daniel Kahneman's 2007 "Thinking About Thinking" Master Class for Edge). For something shorter, I loved this TED Talk by Kahneman about how our memory can trick us.


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