What is fear?

What is fear? My online dictionary describes fear as a distressing emotion aroused by impending danger, evil, pain, etc… whether real or imagined.

While this seems to accurately describe the emotion, it hardly does “fear” justice. Fear, in my experience is too powerful a force in our lives to boil down to a one sentence description.

Last winter, I flew to Maine to spend Christmas with my family. My wife, Alice and I landed in Boston at dusk just as the first flakes of a major snowstorm began to fall. By the time we had gotten our bags and our rental car, an inch had accumulated and all of New England looked like the inside of a snow globe.

Beautiful, but deadly.

As we made our way north through slushy rush hour traffic, the snow got thicker and thicker, and my grip got grippier and grippier.

It’s an adventure,  Alice said at one point, in an attempt to calm me.

I hate adventures, I growled at her. At that moment, I would have given significant internal organs just to be anywhere but driving north in a snowstorm.

But here is the reality: I grew up driving in snow. The roads were mostly plowed. I was in a four wheel drive vehicle. And at no point did my car slip, slide, fishtail or skid. The fact of the matter was that although I was only going 13 miles per hour, I was completely fine.

So, why was I so scared? Because fear is not about the now. Fear is about the future. Fear isn’t about the current danger, evil or pain. Fear is about future, danger, evil or pain. The current danger, evil, and pain we can deal with. We grit our teeth, we go to our happy place, we “tough it out.” But future danger, evil, pain? Scary!

Upon awaking from surgery a number of years back my first thought – after I felt completely sick from general anesthetic, wasn’t, I am in pain. No, it was, how long will
this pain last
and will it get worse?

There is no doubt that fear is in our genetic coding. Fight or flight, the very basic reaction to fear is centered in our reptilian brain, the part of our brain we share with most other animals from the smallest fish to the largest fowl. In fact, to live without fear is biologically incompatible.

But fear hits us at strange times, and makes us do weird things.

Take, oh, I don’t know, improv for example. Most normal people find improv TERRIFYING!

Why is this? What is the future danger, evil, pain, etc., that people fear when it comes to improv?

The answer lies in the “etc.,” doesn’t it? “Etc.” equals the unknown and improv is all about the unknown. When we do improv, we are constantly moving into the unknown. And that is why most improv is controlled by and hampered by fear.

The dirty little secret of improv is that most improvisers are terrified of improv as well.

More on this next post.

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About improvmantra

What is an improv mantra? An improv mantra is a phrase you repeat to yourself just before you go on stage, and continue to keep in your mind while you are in a scene. An effective mantra makes you a better improviser. Todd Erler, like all living creatures, has been doing improv every day since he was born. He has been performing improv on stage for more than 20 years. He is a teacher, writer, musicain, director, actor, and member of The Portable Reality Show.
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One Response to What is fear?

  1. Pingback: We are all afraid | improvmantra

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