I’ve read a number of articles and social media posts discussing how #allwomen live in constant fear of being attacked or killed by a man, and because of this, women engage in many rituals aimed at minimizing the risk of being hurt by a stranger. This is interesting to me for a number of reasons. One, I’m a woman and I don’t live in constant fear for my life. So I was surprised that all women, including women who didn’t live in war-torn countries or gang-ridden areas, were constantly afraid. Two, it’s interesting to me that all women are essentially my mother.
My mother was and is irrationally afraid of many things and she tried to spread this fear to me. I couldn’t go to anyone’s house or to a dance or to a football game because it wasn’t safe. I couldn’t stay out after 10pm because it wasn’t safe. Rather than seeing this as love and care from my mother, I had thought of it as a way of restricting my freedom and controlling me.
Despite the repercussions in my own life, I didn’t blame my mother for these fears, which I know she held honestly. If anything, I felt sad for her being afraid her whole life. You can’t be happy and afraid. You can’t be joyful and afraid. Nearly all good emotions are mutually exclusive from fear. To me, that is quite an opportunity cost. Fear might protect you from some trouble, but at the cost of taking away all that is good in your life. And imagine, if #allwomen are like my mother – they are living in daily fear.
You might say, well once you’ve been harassed, you’ll sing a different tune. But I have been harassed at work and on the streets. I’ve been followed. I’ve gotten mysterious notes in the mail. I haven’t experienced the worst of it, for sure and it isn’t common in my life. In total, these were a few days of my life. I certainly don’t think back and regret not worrying on all those days I wasn’t harassed. I don’t think now that I should worry more. And even if there are more days of trouble than joy in your life- why waste those precious days of joy when nothing happened fearing that something would?
A lifetime of fear is still worth it to be safe, you may say. But being afraid is not the same as being safe – you can take precautions without being in fear and you can be afraid and act in ways that put you in danger. The important thing is to respond to the necessary fears in our lives in ways that are actually helpful.
Many times, fear encourages irrational responses. There are, unfortunately, a lot of women who will experience violence this year. The majority of the violence will be committed by men the victims knew (3:1 proportion). In contrast, the lists that purport to guide women on how to protect themselves focus on strangers. And even those tips tend to be useless.
**Sidenote: Women are often told to keep their keys in their hands to use as a weapon but in interviews with rapists, it proves ineffective because you have to be really close to the potential rapist to use them. More effective were large objects like umbrellas, that the potential rapist could see from a distance, and, having seen them, choose not to assault you. Also, most kidnaps occurred in the morning in parking lots – so the fear of being out at night seems less valid. The more you know.**
The result is that women spend their lives in fear, but 1) they’re protecting themselves against events that are unlikely to happen 2) their methods for protection are futile; and 3) the constant fear and worry hurts their lives. And yet, people keep saying that women need to stay in fear. Maybe women should be afraid because the actions they are taking aren’t protecting them from what they fear most.
Ok, so this was a very long introduction.
Suffice to say, I was thinking about fear and risk in terms of violence, and then I thought about fear and risk in terms of money. A lot of the fears that people have regarding money (the stock market or economy crashes, your job is outsourced, you’ll never advance in your career) are low-probability, but hey, they happen. What’s worse though is the actions that people take to respond to these fears (i.e. staying out of the stock market, picking “safe” jobs, spending hundreds of thousands on grad school) are putting them in much more dangerous places. Yes, the stock market might crash but what will definitely happen is that inflation will swallow up your savings. Yes, maybe your job won’t be outsourced but instead, you definitely hate every day of work. Maybe you stall out at a certain level in your career without a graduate degree but you will definitely have to deal with hundreds of dollars of debt to advance just a little bit farther in your career.
There’s nothing wrong with fear. Fear can be a good messenger reminding us to be extra careful. But we should hear our fear and respond to it intelligently. Just because our lizard brain says “I am afraid!” doesn’t mean you have to keep listening to your lizard brain when it says “Never go out at night! Sell all your stocks! Become a lawyer!”
Acknowledge that your lizard brain is telling you to be afraid, but use your modern brain to figure out a game plan. Constantly being afraid, is a bad game plan. Stress makes us make bad decisions. Instead, we should always be using our brains to calmly think long-term, to come up with the idea that is the best for us even if it makes us a little afraid in the short-term. I’m not saying you can’t be afraid, or that you can get rid of your fears. Fear is a part of life, but you shouldn’t let your fear dictate, and thus ruin, your life.
In the end, it’s all about balancing your risk tolerance and your fears with what you want out of life. If you don’t lean heavily towards the latter, you could be consumed by the former. I’m a pretty risk averse person but I’m trying to be more free. I think what we all really want, what we are all searching for, is freedom from fear. Imagine what you could do with your life if you weren’t always afraid!
I remember a story I read in Carol Dweck’s Mindset where a man acknowledges that he had spent his whole life worried that something terrible would happen to his family. Then his family died in a car accident and he realized that the lifetime of worrying hadn’t helped prepare him for the event one iota. Instead, the fear robbed him of fully appreciating the joyful times that he had spent with his family.
I think about this story when people tell me I should be afraid.
What are your money fears?