What Does the Fox Say? FEAR
Two of the most common questions I get asked when people learn that I do solo wilderness expeditions, one is about solitude and how do I cope being by myself in the middle of nowhere for long periods of time. Do I get lonely? And the other is about being afraid. Am I fearful being in the wild with large wild animals roaming around. What about all the dangers and risks out there. What if something happens? What if I get caught into a storm. What if I break something!
There is a big difference between dangers and fear. Dangers are real, tangible aspects that you can quantify, measure, analyze, and can find solutions that you can deal with. Fear is conceptual, it is our interpretation of those dangers. And those interpretations are rooted in cultural and personal perspectives, from past experiences we have and what is our own definition of a comfort zone.
I often wonder how some of the tragedies of the past would have been experienced had social media existed. It is fair to say that the coronavirus is the first pandemic to happen fully immerse in a world dominated by Facebook, Instagram and Twitter. Where information spreads without any editorial oversight. When SARS happened in 2003 Facebook wasn’t even public yet. The last flu pandemic of 2009, when 210,00 people died, Facebook had 300 million users. Today, Facebook has 2.5 billion users. Every single day, there are 460 million status updates, more than 211 million photos are uploaded, 78 million links are shared and there are more than 8 billion video views. Twitter’s 300 million users create more than 500 million tweets every single day.
Add in to the mix the fact that our trust in leaders and experts has reached a record low level; that tribalism has become the dominating social structure; that you can find online ‘factual’ reports on any imaginable conspiracy; that we have a cultural belief that they way we experience the world means it is real – so emotions over facts; that technology has created this illusion that we can live in a world of zero risks; and you tightly wrap all those ingredients into an economic model that prioritize fear and battles for your attention without any ethic and at any cost, and you start to understand the current hysteria that is going right now.
There is a reason why you want an experienced captain at the helm of a boat during a storm. You don’t want the passengers who are sick in their cabins, thinking it is the end of the world, broadcasting to the world their theories about survival and what is going on. You don’t want a captain that is going to listen to every opinion on the boat. You want someone who has been there before. You want someone who can tell you that while it sucks, it is going to be ok. You want someone who can reassure you while at the same time recognize the dangers.
One of the things that worries me the most is the long term impact of those crisis. The roller coaster effect that pushes people to opposite camps and reinforces tribalism. The tendency we have to dismiss and disconnect when the threat doesn’t match the damage. When we cry wolf and a puppy shows up. The definition of an allergy is when your body overreacts to a foreign organism. It doesn’t trust its immune system to deal with it so it compensates and just go haywire. This is what our society right now is having with the Coronavirus. We are having an allergic reaction. We don’t trust our own mechanisms to deal with this foreign invader so we are going in overdrive compensating and in the process creating panic and a lot of damage.
In recent days, there has been a backlash every time numbers about the flu and other causes of death are brought to the table. The argument is that this time it ‘might’ be different. And it is better to be safe than sorry. But the purpose for bringing context and perspective with these numbers is to help us assess the gravity of the situation and act accordingly. Nearly 1.25 million people die each year in car crashes, that is an average of 3, 287 deaths every single day. An additional 20 to 50 million injured or disabled. Half of those accidents happen among men between 15 and 44 years old. In 2018, there were 5 fatal shark accidents versus 300 toaster related deaths in the United States alone. These numbers don’t dismiss the dangers but they force us to re-evaluate our fears, NOT the dangers. Last year there were 390,000 accidents because of texting and driving. That is 1,070 accidents every single day. And yet we still text and drive. Tobacco kills more than 8 million people each year. More than 7 million of those deaths are the result of direct tobacco use while around 1.2 million are the result of non-smokers being exposed to second-hand smoke. It even says on packs of cigarettes – it will kill you. Yet, it is legal for parents to smoke in front of their children and we allow people to congregate in front of buildings and smoke. If that was not enough, cigarettes are one of main sources of pollution, with billions of them finding their way into our waters.
I am not saying there isn’t a danger with Coronavirus, there is, and proper measures need to be put in place. Just like putting a seatbelt or respecting the speed limit when you drive. Coronavirus is an issue that we have to address. It is spreading and with have to deal with it. But you still have a death mortality that is lower than other more dangerous realities we have accepted to live with. We have to be careful about the unintended consequences and collateral damage created. I remember when I lived in Argentina, I was hangin out with a group of gauchos, the equivalent of cowboys here in North America. We were in those flooded plains and there were these alligators, snakes, all kinds of dangerous stuff everywhere, the threat of death was all around. Our group was freaking out and yet the gauchos were totally relaxed. That was their comfort zone. In fact they were telling us we were the crazy ones. Because we lived in cities with cars zooming by and accidents left and right. Their fears were at the total opposite of our fears.
Some of you might remember the movie Golden Compass. With Daniel Craig and Nicole Kidman. There is a scene in the movie where Lydia the little girl, is riding on the back of a polar bear. They are witnessing the witches heading to war. Lydia says to the polar bear: “… aren’t you afraid?” and the polar bear answers: “No. When I am I will master my fear.”
Every time I am out on expedition, I can’t let my fears dictate my actions. I have to assess the dangers for what they really are, and act accordingly. I have to face the fact that I will overreact by applying my own perspective. It is then that I understand the fine balance between risk and discovery. Between living in fear and seeking new experiences. I want my life and I want the world, humankind, to be able to negotiate and deal with the unexpected and become better and stronger. Because right now the hysteria reminds me an allergic reaction to peanuts. Yes it can be deadly but the reason why we are there is because we have isolated ourselves into a corner that has no longevity.