Friday, March 12, 2010

Eleanor and Cardboard

"Do one thing everyday that scares you." -Eleanor Roosevelt

I was having dinner at a friend's house, and I saw the quote on a refrigerator magnet.  What would happen if you did do one thing everyday that scared you?  What would happen if you did something even once a week?  We both agreed that soon you would either be afraid of nothing . . . or dead.

So avoiding death, and consequently ruling out skydiving without a parachute, how do you pursue this?  What does it mean for you?  A million common fears probably come to mind.  Public speaking, flying, clowns, snakes, dancing when someone else is in the room.  Anyone cringing yet?  Eating alone in a restaurant, voicing an opinion, getting a tattoo, lacking a boyfriend/girlfriend, spiders, cutting/coloring your hair.  How about now?  Revealing a secret talent or skill, relinquishing control, heights, vanilla ice cream and peanut butter.  Getting the picture?

Where snakes are an unusual texture to one person, and peanut butter is a natural complement for vanilla ice cream to another, the same individuals face serious hurdles with dancing and solo-restaurant-going.  In those pursuits, the person suddenly suffers bouts of anxiety.  Maybe, just maybe, fear of failure is the prime motivator in what scares us, and the rest of the time our fears are rooted in the unknown.

Because as we're all aware, the known universe does not extend beyond ourselves, and when we don't meet our expectations of success, that universe self-destructs.--Oh, wait, that's just our misconceptions evaporating.

Imagine a documentary as narrated by an alien from the galaxy of Andromeda:

"Ladies and gentlemen, welcome to Earth, where humans consciously and unconsciously place themselves and all others inside cardboard boxes.  They put the lid on the box but don't seal it with so much force as scotch tape, poke a few air holes in the top to provide some token ventilation, and call it good.  Never mind the fact that cardboard smells atrocious as soon as the rain comes.  Never mind the fact that they can break cardboard down easily enough.  No, they squat in their little cardboard boxes, afraid to step, crawl, jump out and do the little thing that scares them.  Because smelly as it is in there, it's home, and it's known.  'I know this universe,' they say to themselves, as they peek through the airholes at their fellow prisoners.

"Occasionally, they grow curious or jealous of others' cardboard prisons and abandon their original domicile in search of larger, more commodious confines.  Only to find the stench is only slightly altered by the higher quality corrugation. . . .  Back they trudge to their boxes, toting a sandwich board enscribed with their failure.  It reads, 'Attempted to break free of Box Theory.  Panic and fear administered in high dosage.  All systems equalizing.'

"Back they go.  Lid slides back into place.  They are home.  They are defined by closing themselves into what they will not do, will not try, and consequently will not fail.  They are not afraid because they are where they know they're known.  They are comfortable again, and others are theoretically comfortable with them here where they are known.  Others are not scared, and supposedly neither are they. . . ."

What then is this thrumming beat in our chests, this constricting sickness to our stomachs?  It is the curiosity that won't go away, no matter how much fear and panic is administered.  It is the desire to dance like nobody's watching, sing like nobody's listening, speak like nobody's judging.  It is the desire to be who we're meant to be, who we want to be.  In short, it is the desire to do the thing that scares us.

Ladies and gentlemen, we may step out of the box.  The lid was removed some time ago.  The damp boxes will collapse and self-destruct without you to support them from the inside.  Come on, you can do it.  Get the tattoo if it's what you really want it.  Cut your hair; 99% of the time it grows back.  Let go of the reins for a moment.  Don't be afraid to be alone.  Maybe enjoy a flavor you haven't tried yet.

Do the thing that scares you.

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