“The oldest and strongest emotion of mankind is fear, and the oldest and strongest kind of fear is fear of the unknown.” Yeah, what Lovecraft said. Fear is one of the most primal emotions. Akin to joy and anger, it’s something we find the hardest to control. We all fear something. If someone claims that they’re not afraid of anything, it suggests that they’re afraid of fear itself (phobophobia), and refuse to accept the simple truth.
It’s that time of year again that fears are in abundance around the University campus. No, I’m not talking about the drunk Santa Claus trying to hit on you, nor stuffing yourself with Christmas delicacies to the point where the fat guy in the movie Se7en looks like mini-you. I’m talking about exams. The horror, the horror!
Fear of exams (failophobia) is an example of an irrational fear. How so? Well, if you’ve read well enough, there should be nothing to fear, right? And if you haven’t read enough, you don’t deserve to fear, because you don’t deserve a good grade. Simple as that. Now, don’t confuse fear with anxiety. You’re allowed to be anxious about exams, mainly because you never know what the lecturer will come up with in the test. Anxiety is a watered down emotion, totally controllable and easy to brush off with a whatever-attitude. We’re all anxious about stuff, but when we allow that anxiety to grow into a full-blown fear, that’s when we’re in trouble.
Because fear, my friends, is an age old recursive loop. Fear breeds fear breeds fear. If you had a near-drowning experience when you were a kid, lolling about in your parents’ swimming pool with chains around your ankles and a 10kg weight in the pocket (?) of your Speedos, you’ve probably still got a fear of water. Soon that fear of water probably evolved into a fear of being on water, and not just in it. You might fear cruise ships and sailing boats, or water skiing and wakeboarding. Or maybe you have a fear of heights, a perfectly rational fear. Maybe that fear has evolved into fear of airplanes, fuelled even more by the events of 9/11. And because you fear airplanes, your fear soon evolved and took the face of a bearded religious extremist hailing from the rocky hills of Afghanistan. Soon you feared all Muslims and misinterpreted their prayers for Allah as an incantation prior to setting off the TNT vest and blowing oneself to smithereens in the name of Jihad.
All fear has to do with the unknown. While walking home in the middle of the night through a dark park with twisted paths and ominous bushes, you fear what might lurk in the darkness. I remember seeing The Exorcist when I was 15, and it was such a profoundly frightening experience that I made sure to walk in the middle of the road when going home that night. I was sure that a pea-soup-spewing, possessed young girl would jump up on me and shout something obscene like “la plume de ma tante”.
There’s also the other great fear that all students share: fear of the Future. We fear the future because we don’t know what’s in store for us. Our lives are like a slow-motion game of Pictionary, where all our experiences and memories gang up together to draw us a picture of our future, but we just can’t make it past the outlines: “Airplane pilot? No? Ah, a car mechanic! What, still no? Umm… ukulele musician? What? Close? Ok, I’ll think on that.” But my friends, there’s nothing to fear about the future! So stop worrying. Future comes as future goes, being afraid of it does nothing to further the process of growing up. You can tell the fear to shove it by actually waiting for the future and the surprises it brings along. Don’t fear aging, embrace it! Just imagine the life experience you’re gathering, and how you can look back in 20 years to your younger, student self and laugh at how afraid you were of nothing.
All in all, I’m glad to have fears. They make me human. I don’t trust anyone who claims they have no fears, because they’re the victims of the biggest irrational fear of all. I’m slightly claustrophobic, I have a strong fear of being misunderstood and forgotten, I have a moderate fear of commitment and I bloody well fear snakes. There, I said it. Now it’s your turn.