Fearless: Branching out without Going out on a Limb

There’s a squirrel that makes regular visits to our property. Betty, our terrier-mix, always senses the squirrel’s presence. She is fearless, excitedly jumping at the glass slider to be let out into the backyard so that she can join him.

I often comply with Betty’s urgent requests because both she and the squirrel interact in ways that may seem (at first glance) dare-devilish but are (in actuality) non-threatening to all involved.

There’s a lot of enjoyment from watching the in-the-moment and comical give-and-take as both participants dart and dash, advance and retreat. The scene is fearless, vibrant, and “alive:” Their antics feel like a life-affirming dance.

I’m highlighting the playful nature of this exchange because it would be easy to view it differently. For many, the idea of being fearless – engaging without fear – is synonymous with being reckless.

Fearless or Reckless?

Under this fearlessness = recklessness assumption, why tempt fate by giving Betty/squirrel access to a potentially disastrous scenario? What if Betty caught the squirrel? What if the squirrel bit her? What if…

There’s a biological explanation for this worried stance. The theory of Negativity Bias alludes to our predisposition of perceiving the world as a dangerous place. Fear, the theory posits, was an evolutionary tool. It helped keep us nearly invisible, so we could survive the predators of our primordial surroundings, mate, and pass along our genes to perpetuate the species.

In today’s world, however, predators rarely exist, yet our unconscious biological predispositions still urge us to brace against potential adverse outcomes in the internalized belief that all life experiences can potentially devolve into lethal events.

Left unchallenged, we react to these messages by leading cautionary, limited, less-interactive, and less-integrated lives, which can ultimately lead to anxiety and depression.

Why Caution can be Dangerous

Restless in our mundane existences, we then become susceptible to drastic measures in order to jumpstart ways to “feel alive.”

Many in the throes of this dilemma adopt extreme sports to feel this spark. Why? Because pushing our physical limits gives us thrilling hits of adrenaline. Others may introduce drugs into their systems to feel the flood of chemically-induced escape.

But these practices put us in far greater danger than the act of fully participating in the unfolding nature of our lives. Isn’t it ironic that the riskiest thing we can do is cut ourselves off from experiencing life?

Life as a Participation Sport

Back to the action: I find it thrilling how Mr. squirrel always knows to stay just out of Betty’s reach – to her frustration and delight. We can learn a lot from this squirrel: Just as he trusts his abilities to assess the solidity of branches before scampering onto them, we possess the common-sense to separate fearlessness from recklessness.

Branching out through participation is not the same as going out on a dangerous limb. Let’s take a cue from our furry friends and take advantage of the unfolding opportunities around us:

Play more, Fear less.