Just before Christmas last year, my mother was getting ready to run some errands when her heart began to race uncontrollably. She ended up having to be hospitalized for a few days, but thankfully the doctors were able to do their thing and now she’s out and back to being her awesome self. During her stay in the hospital my son and I visited her regularly. I was strong, and was able to maintain a positive and encouraging attitude-right up until I wasn’t. On about the fourth day my armor started to crack and I began lashing out, yelling at an employee and snapping at the people closest to me. Around 9PM that night, as I stepped off the elevator to my apartment, I just fell apart. Terrified my mother wasn’t going to come home, I started bawling. So, I called her in her hospital room and told her how I was so scared, how I had been unkind to people I cared about, and she spoke to me like I was a little kid again, reminding me to be nice. I was a frightened grown man, crying on his kitchen floor, being comforted by his hospitalized mom.
What is fear, really?
I won’t act like I never snap at people close to me, but other than that one time last December, I don’t yell at people on my team. I don’t even know what I was yelling about, which shows how unimportant the supposed offense was. I do know this though: every time I yell, or say something hurtful, underneath that anger and frustration is some kind of fear.
It’s obvious that anger is safer to express than fear. Showing fear can get us laughed at. Showing fear can sometimes cause people to lose faith in our ability to do whatever it is they feel they need us to do. Showing fear can get us pushed to the back of the line, or left behind by people we wish would stay in our lives. In some especially sad cases, being fearful can get us taunted or physically assaulted. Fear is just not a very welcome emotion.
It’s Like Being Pulled Over
But everyone experiences fear. It’s just an unpleasant feeling that something or someone is going to be dangerous or painful. I don’t care who you are, if you are driving home at night and suddenly your rear view mirror is filled with flashing blue lights, your first thought is most likely going to be “oh crap, what did I do?”
And the reality is that most of us have some kind of rear view mirror in our mind that we are constantly looking at, and many times we see blue lights flashing in it.
They could be flashing because of serious financial troubles, or because we are worried our spouse or partner is behaving in ways we don’t want them to. Maybe a loved one is sick. Maybe we are sick. It doesn’t really matter what is setting off the sirens and lights, it just matters that they are there, and to the person who is experiencing them they are loud and bright. And just like being pulled over in real life, fear can make focusing on anything else very difficult.
You Make the Difference
I hear a lot of comments, and see a lot of posts on social media, claiming that people are just no good. Responding with, “People suck!” after we hear or read about someone doing something we don’t like has become as formal a response as saying, “God bless you,” after someone sneezes. But I really don’t think people suck. I think most people are good. Sometimes we’re just scared and behave in incredibly hurtful or selfish ways.
As a trainer, my job is basically to motivate people. Obviously I have to keep them safe and get results, but if I can’t keep them motivated, I lose the opportunity to help. What am I doing when I motivate a client, really? I’m helping them believe in themselves. Occasionally someone will act like they don’t want to be motivated, but most of the time they do what I ask anyway and they keep coming back. I like to believe it’s because I’m helping them push through fear and visualize that their future will be different from their present, and it’s in their power to shape what lies ahead into something they find exciting and empowering.
So how does that relate to us as Memphians, trying to make our city more enjoyable and dynamic? I think there is a simple way we can help each other along. We can start by accepting that people don’t necessarily suck, but do frequently see the blue lights of fear flashing in their mental mirror. If we accept this, we can accept that people frequently view their future as unpleasant, dangerous and frightening. And if we can accept that, then we can accept that some motivation, even just in the form of kind words, can help push them through whatever challenge they are experiencing. If just a few kind words can make a big difference, then it’s easy to accept we each have the power to help.
I believe that every action we take and every word we speak gives those around us permission to do the same. If I start screaming, then I implicitly give others permission to scream. If I speak hatefully, then those around me may believe they have permission to respond in kind. But the same is true if I choose to speak with encouragement and motivation. A pat on the back and a, “Good job!” can go a long way in keeping someone’s spirits lifted. Our energy is contagious, whether it’s negative or positive. Change your attitude and watch those around you change. It works, it really does. Maybe you’ll get some weird looks at first. Maybe people will make some snide comments. Some folks have been deprived of encouragement so long they don’t know how to act when it’s offered. But remember, that’s just the blue lights in their mirror and your words can help them through it.
Mark Akin started out as a musician, bartender and bouncer. He now co owns Envision Fitness and basically makes a living by clapping his hands and counting to 10.