What We Know about Fear

Another year, another shark week.

Yes, I’m tuned and glued to another week of bad shark bite reenactments and worse theme music. And of course, there are great whites leaping to catch seals, blood in the water, and survivor stories.

And it’s actually the latter that I enjoy the most. The tale invariably unfolds: someone is surfing, fishing, or kayaking at an inopportune time of the day: early morning or dusk. They are minding their own business when they feel like they’ve been hit by a freight train. They see blood, and sometimes nothing else, as they try to fight off the thrashing or they lose consciousness. Then, they lose an arm. They lose a leg. They lose a hand. And in fact, one guy lost his foot. The kicker? (I’m sorry. That was a bad pun that no one deserved). The shark didn’t even eat his foot. The intact appendage washed back up on shore a few days later.

So, the experiences may change. The trauma, the details, even the shark itself may change. But do you know what almost every single survivor of a shark attack says after the event?

“I can’t wait to get back in the water.”

Which is absolutely, totally crazy. I mean, I’ve heard of getting back on the horse, but c’mon. That’s a horse. It has teeth, not razor blades. What are these people thinking?

Well, they’re probably thinking that their worst fear of the ocean, almost losing their life, has been realized. After that, there really isn’t much to be afraid of anymore. So, why not head back in? In fact, there may be a certain comfort in the idea of lightning not (hopefully) striking twice. Once you’re struck, maybe that’s enough.

Now, this pretty much confirms what we understand about fear. Really, people aren’t afraid of spiders, sharks, or stuff. We’re really frightened of the unknown, what we can’t predict. So, when shark attacks happen, this fear sort of dissipates for these people because they’ve already stared it in the face and come out on the other side. They know, and so, they aren’t afraid.

In the end, this could be a really extreme positive message about facing your fears. But you don’t have to go swimming at dawn to feel like you’ve conquered your fright. You simply need to stop letting your past affect your future, except for offering helpful hints once in awhile.

So really, what it probably means is that you shouldn’t swim at dawn after you’ve had a shark attack. But then again, you shouldn’t be afraid of swimming at any other time of day, either.

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