As a wilderness experiential education facilitator, I get fear—hell, I manipulate it often. I am constantly pushing people to do things that are just plain scary. I front-load my request with a tone of expected compliance. Outward Bound promoted a model that takes learners and places them into a unique physical environment to create disequilibrium. Today, we say “pushes them out of their comfort zone.” And here is where the love comes in. I can facilitate fear, but if I do it without love, I just create panic in the learner, and we all know there is no learning when we are in a state of panic. So why would anyone ever use such a tactic to teach love?
For that matter, why do many folks settle for a life of mediocrity? Why do we, as adults, abandon the dreams of our youth? At first, there might seem like a lot of reasons for this. But if we boil all of these answers down, we will end up with one answer, one word: FEAR. Why does fear play such a huge roll in whom we become or what we attempt to do in this life? And more importantly, what exactly do we fear?
Cognitive behavior research tells us that we beat up on ourselves on a constant basis. NO, not physically, but internally, with the silent little conversations we have with ourselves. Where did we learn to do this? Charles Cooley would tell us that our self-image was formed between the ages of 0 and 5 years old from the actions and reactions of authority figures around us, primarily our parents. Dr. Albert Bandura would say that it was formed from the feedback of our environment, which includes parents, peers, and the world around us. From the time we are born, we are encouraged to play it safe and not take risks, and we’re taught that failing is to be avoided. We learn to tell ourselves “You’re not good enough,” or “I am too (fill in blank) to do that.” That message morphs into an understanding that rejection is lonely, that we should sell our souls to feel accepted, or do whatever we must not to be rejected.
So we set out building walls around us, and we stay in our comfort zones. Our fear-based behavior drives us to self-insulate and isolate, all while we scream inside, “Does anyone see me?”
Sure, we can put on a good act of being happy and friendly for a while. Wilderness facilitators call this the honeymoon period. However, we can hear our own screams for validation and acknowledgement of the dark and cold walls of our loneliness. I used to think I was the only one doing this. But I am not, am I?
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So how do you get people to risk rejection beyond pretense? How do we validate another human being’s fear in such a way that they choose risk?
- You love them through their fear.
- You accept them for who they are at all cost.
- You see them, validate them, and embrace them!
- If needed, you allow them to borrow some of your courage. One of my favorite movie quotes goes: “It might be bigger than you, and it might be bigger than me, but it is not bigger than us.”
As a facilitator, I have seen the relief that unconditional acceptance brings to other human beings. I can see it in their eyes. I am going to accept you no matter what happens next! I have come to realize that it is not the task they fear; it is our response to their performance of the task. Sure, the outdoor adventures I lead include some scary stuff, but that is not what’s stopping people from living, is it? That is not what is stealing our dreams away, is it? No, the only thing I have witnessed that moves us past pretense and into greatness is what we call unconditional LOVE. Putting people into a unique environment that causes fear and creates some disequilibrium, then loving on them and watching them achieve something amazing. I get to be in the front row to see “I cant’s” turn into “I can’s!” And I know the “I can’s” grow into acts of greatness.