Conversations with Fear

Comparisons: March 21, 2001

     "You know," began Fear, "you mentioned 'score card' sometime last year. I've been thinking about that idea, and I find it greatly appeals to me."
     "Why?" I asked.
     "Because, the more I think about it, the more I see an advantage in the concept."
     "I thought you might. But I can't help wondering what took you so long to figure it out."
     "Guess I just never thought about it."
     "That surprises me," I said. "Ever since I've known you, which has been as long as I can remember, you've always been on top of such things."
     "All I can say," admitted Fear, "is that you've given me a new idea of how to think about gaining subjects."
     "I'm sorry about that. The last thing you need is a new way to garner victims!"
     "Are you going to introduce a sour note into our conversations so early in the new year," chided Fear, "by tainting your comments with the tongue of a poisonous serpent?"
     "Well," I said taken aback, "I hadn't thought of it quite that way, but I see your point. I agree, let's at least attempt civility, shall we? And I'll begin by apologizing for my comment."
     "Thank you."
     "Tell me, Fear, what advantage do you see in the notion of 'score cards'?"
     "To begin with, your individual score cards are analogous to your self-esteem, your sense of self-worth and human dignity. Therefore, as long as you're in charge of keeping your own score, as it were, you can prevent me from influencing how you think and thus how you live your life."
     "True," I acknowledged, "but why do you say that?"
     "Because success or failure is  not an event, but rather the  interpretation of an event."
     "Yes, go on," I urged when Fear paused.
     "Well," continued Fear thoughtfully, "if you care what other people think of you—in other words, give your score card away—then I can influence your self-esteem by controlling the thoughts of those whose opinions you value, which is just about everyone."
     "You mean negative peer pressure?"
     "In a sense, yes. Let's suppose, for example, that you give a speech and, as is usually the case, part of the audience likes what you say and part doesn't. Further, those who don't like what you say, or at least are uncomfortable with the ideas you express, are not only negative in their critique but also the most vocal about their opinions. Unless you are strong enough within and hold fast to your own counsel or your 'score card,' as you call it, they will surely weaken your self-esteem with their negativity."
     "That," I countered, "is assuming I listen to them, which I don't."
     "True enough," replied Fear. "But you're the exception, as I've already noted. Most people are staunchly tuned into negative comments and don't even hear positive ones. And if they do hear positive comments, they immediately discount them because they feel undeserving of such approval, much to my delight."
     "I agree with you, because that's how I used to feel. But there's also something else at work here—expectations. I've found most people have unspoken expectations that, if too high, are usually not met or, if too low, are usually fulfilled, both of which lead to disappointment and a plummeting self-esteem."
     "Expectations are the key, aren't they?" asked Fear.
     "Yes, because they lead to our personalizing other people's comments."
     "What," asked Fear, "do you mean by 'personalizing comments?'"
     "I mean taking their comments personally. For example, suppose I express ideas that frighten someone, and that person attacks me verbally. If I assume that what they say about me as a person is true, and my self-esteem is already low, then I take the attack to be aimed at me personally, rather than understanding that they are simply voicing their fear of the ideas I've expressed. If, however, I actually take their verbal attack personally, it not only makes me feel worse about myself than I already do but also gives me what I think I deserve—a negative outcome. And the more I worry about it, the worse I feel about myself while simultaneously being gratified in that I'm simply getting what I think I deserve."
     "In other words," said Fear with some excitement, "their punching your score card, and you're accepting the tally."
     "Exactly," I replied. "But, if I'm the keeper of my own counsel, which is synonymous with my own score, then it makes no difference what anyone says—good or bad—because I don't take any of it personally. After all, recognizing that the public is at once predictable and fickle, I simply say 'Thank you' for all comments, positive or negative, and leave it at that."
     "By 'leave it at that,' do you mean you let the other person own his or her point of view?"
     "Precisely. I let them own their own feelings, sense of values, and judgments. In that way, they have no effect on me—and neither do you."
     "Just exactly what do you mean, 'neither do you?'" asked Fear with some agitation.
     "That's simple enough," I said. "You're incapable of complimenting anyone, so all you can do is stimulate people's negative reactions to one another. Therefore, when I ignore the negative of another person's energy and comments, I'm ignoring you."
     "How'd you figure that out?" Fear wanted to know.
     "As I got to know you, I began to see just how transparent and predictable you are."
     "Transparent? Predictable?"
     "Yes, and it's your predictability that renders you transparent. You always do the same thing to control people's thinking."
     "What, for instance?" challenged Fear.
     "Your undisputed talent," I answered, "is your ability to plant and nurture the seed of negativity. Strange, somehow  nurture and  negativity seem totally incongruous. Nevertheless, that being the case, if I listen to you, I become negative, which sinks me not only into your depthless well of fear and the uncertainty it spawns but also into depression. Once I'm depressed, I'm totally vulnerable to your ministrations because my self-esteem is all but absent. Then, I see someone who appears to 'have it all together' and I immediately compare my sense of myself to my sense of the other person. I can only lose in such a comparison because I inevitably compare my sense of my many perceived weaknesses and dismal failures to the other person's apparent self-assuredness and shinning success."
     "Is that all?" quizzed Fear.
     "No, that's not all! If my self-esteem is low, I assume that people won't like me if they really know me because they'll see that I'm the failure I think I am. Of course, I'm projecting what I think of myself onto other people and then creating an imaginary self-fulfilling prophecy by assuming I know they think the same of me as I do of myself. But, naturally, I never bother to ask them how they really feel about me. And because I assume the worst—under your tutelage—I withdraw even deeper into my self-imposed prison and dissolve into a puddle of bubbling self-pity.
     "There's still another method by which you can wheedle your way into my thinking if my self-esteem is low, and that is for me to overhear a snatch of negative conversation between two people and jump to the conclusion that I'm the topic of their derogatory comments. In reality, however, they're not talking about me at all; in fact, they haven't even noticed me.
     "But then Fear, my ol' once enemy, I don't listen to you anyway because your babble is all nonsense, and I like keeping my own score.
     "Have I missed anything?"
     "A few things," acknowledged Fear, "but I don't want to continue this conversation because I intend to keep some secrets, just in case you ever slip from the present into the future, where I can reach you. I'm still your enemy, and you had best remember that!"
     "Rest assured—I will!! But here is something for you to keep in mind. 'A known enemy,' as Louis Pasteur said, 'is already half disarmed.' And I know you. Remember that!"

© chris maser 2001. All rights reserved.

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