How often do you choose fear over understanding?

Today is July 26 and the Navigate the Chaos question of the day to consider is “how often do you choose fear over understanding?” Navigating the chaos, will at some point, require you to choose between fear and understanding. Those who aggressively pursue their dreams deal with this decision more than others who walk slowly upon the path. Either way is fine as there is no right or wrong. But do recognize some people simply have more experience confronting their fear. Like almost everything else in life, the more you practice something the better you are likely to handle it in the future.

Fear paralyzes. Fear takes our breath away. Fear stops us in our tracks. These and other side effects of fear are part of the fight or flight response. The fight or flight response is an automatic physiological reaction to an event that is perceived as stressful or frightening. The perception of threat activates the sympathetic nervous system and triggers an acute stress response that prepares the body to fight or flee. These responses are evolutionary adaptations to increase chances of survival in threatening situations.

As posted on the Harvard Medical School website on July 6, 2020 “Over the years, researchers have learned not only how and why these reactions occur but have also gained insight into the long-term effects chronic stress has on physical and psychological health. Over time, repeated activation of the stress response takes a toll on the body. Research suggests that chronic stress contributes to high blood pressure, promotes the formation of artery-clogging deposits, and causes brain changes that may contribute to anxiety, depression, and addiction. More preliminary research suggests that chronic stress may also contribute to obesity, both through direct mechanisms (causing people to eat more) or indirectly (decreasing sleep and exercise).”

Both the short-term and long-term effects of the fight or flight response can be mitigated by a greater sense of self-awareness, a deeper recognition of the big picture, and a significant effort to understanding one’s life situation.

The French Physicist Marie Curie once wrote: “Nothing in life is to be feared. It is only to be understood.” People who successfully navigate the chaos intentionally choose understanding as a function over fear. Curie had to overcome barriers that were placed in her way because she was a woman, in both her native and her adoptive country.

As she addressed challenges in both her personal and professional life Curie maintained a life-long commitment to understanding. As a child Curie took after her father, Wladyslaw, a math and physics instructor. A top student in her secondary school, Curie could not attend the men-only University of Warsaw. She instead continued her education in Warsaw's "floating university," a set of underground, informal classes held in secret.

Both Curie and her sister Bronya dreamed of going abroad to earn an official degree, but they lacked the financial resources to pay for more schooling. Undeterred, Curie worked out a deal with her sister. She would work to support Bronya while she was in school and Bronya would return the favor after she completed her studies. For roughly five years, Curie worked as a tutor and a governess. She used her spare time to study, reading about physics, chemistry and math.

In 1891, Curie finally made her way to Paris where she enrolled at the Sorbonne in Paris. She threw herself into her studies, but this dedication had a personal cost. With little money, Curie survived on buttered bread and tea, and her health sometimes suffered because of her poor diet. Curie completed her master's degree in physics in 1893 and earned another degree in mathematics the following year.

She was the first woman to win a Nobel Prize, the first person and only woman to win twice, the only person to win a Nobel Prize in two different sciences, and was part of the Curie family legacy of five Nobel Prizes. She was also the first woman to become a professor at the University of Paris, and in 1995 became the first woman to be entombed on her own merits in the Panthéon in Paris.

Much like Curie’s pursuit of understanding, South African President Nelson Mandela discussed his pursuit of understanding over fear in his publication Long Walk to Freedom and wrote:

“Time and again, I have seen men and women risk and give their lives for an idea. I have seen men stand up to attacks and torture without breaking, showing a strength and resiliency that defies the imagination. I learned that courage was not the absence of fear, but the triumph over it. I felt fear myself more times than I can remember, but I hid it behind a mask of boldness. The brave man is not he who does not feel afraid, but he who conquers that fear.”

How often do you choose fear over understanding?