Fear is an ‘essential’ part of living, “a human emotion triggered by a perceived threat”, in theory to keep us safe. Alike our bodies needing pain receptors so that our brain can send tiny signals through our nervous system to tell us ‘That hurt, don’t do it again’ (when we touch a hot stove or stub our toe), fear helps us separate what could hurt us from what helps us.
Now, it would be great if it stopped at just that but for some reason fear seems to have evolved in recent years alongside anxiety and depression (especially in the millennial generation) to hinder people as much as (if not more) than helping them. Fear no longer just resides with urging you not to get too close to the edge of the cliff, it’s everywhere. It’s as commonplace as having your morning cup of tea; fear of failure, change, settling, falling in love, public speaking, flying, getting hurt, small spaces, not being good enough, needles, dying, insects and even certain foods (there is such a thing as a fear of peanut butter – as a strong advocate of peanut butter this is ludicrous to me but each to their own).
So why is fear getting so out of control and how do we resist the ever-draining whirlpool of being afraid? It’s easy to blame it on the technology revolution we are living through (like we blame everything else on) but that’s fairly vague so instead let’s delve deeper into the contents of that information placed readily in our laps every morning, evening and night. Have you ever looked around you and realised that we are only presented with the most extreme versions of all information? The World News reporting on potential wars, terrorism, political fudes and economic crisis until we are left speechless in our living rooms with only uncertainty and insomnia awaiting us in our beds that evening.
Social Media on the other hand, hand me the rose-tinted glasses because everything on here seems to be glowing. Who knew everyone ‘just woke up like this’ looking so flawless, or that their lives and relationships were so perfect? Think again, social media shows the best of the best of peoples lives, not the bad days or the rainy days but the holidays and the sunny days. This is all ok (I enjoy photo-sharing my experiences too) so long as you know this isn’t people’s everyday lives on most occasions and if it is their everyday life, they still have bad days, insecurities, their own problems and tons of fears too.
The problem starts when people begin to view others’ glistening social media performance as a standard or metric by which to measure their own life. You cannot compete with a filtered version of every good day someone has ever had, so stop comparing or being afraid of leading a life not quite up to someone else’s standard (what happens to all our Instagram’s when we die? sweet bugar all that’s what). There is no hall of fame or award ceremony for the most Instagram famous model or most likes ever in history (Instagram if you’re reading this and you set up the event I want a cut for the idea).
Basically, don’t let the flux of information flooding our lives on a daily basis make you a victim to what seems to be a mental health epidemic. There are people out there with horrifyingly tangible daily problems, like avoiding gun shots on a daily basis, but we don’t see it to compare or appreciate how lucky our lives actually are. This is either because they don’t post about it or don’t get the following they deserve, either way this brings me to my next inspirational encounter, provided by 3 young gentlemen I met in Chicago, from Chicago, born and raised.
Chicago by city but south-side by town. If you’ve never heard of South-side then you were just as naive as me, if you have heard of it you’ll know what we’re dealing with. South-side is a town in Chicago with one of the highest gun shot rates in the entirety of the US, firmly planting Chicago as one of the top contenders for highest fatal gun crime and homicide rates in the entirety of the States. That’s right, the entirety of the states, hard to imagine deaths on that scale not being publicised more isn’t it?
And yet 2016 only shows an even greater increase…
A resident, surname ‘Weekly’ from the area gave an insight (for a local newspaper) into the frightening evolution of gang and gun crime over the last decade below:
Did I know this before I visited there? No. Would I change it and not go? Never, it was actually one of the most beautiful and of my personal favourites of the 6 states I’ve been to so far (but you do have to have your wits about you). Less about the place and more on the inspirational trio, we will call them ‘Freedom‘ (all will become clear).
Freedom (See featured blog picture above) approached me whilst sat in a park in downtown Chicago (Millenium Park). The 3 of them walked (and wheeled) themselves over to me; I didn’t ask their reason for approaching me, it may have been because I’m a girl or maybe because I was sat on my own, or could’ve been both (eek!) but either way it didn’t matter. Greeted with a hand-shake in my lap as the gentleman in a wheel-chair extended his arm to me, I took my headphones out, stopped what I was doing and engaged. They asked me what I was doing and at the time I was actually blogging, so I told them the nature that I like to record and learn from different and inspirational people I meet around the world.
We might have a story or two for you” they said.
The young gentlemen then proceeded to give me an insight into their ‘normal’ (in their eyes), everyday lives. We will start with the gentleman in the wheelchair, this brave-faced adolescent volunteered that he is handicapped through a gun-shot to the back in a gang dispute in which he wasn’t even the main target, his best friend (now deceased) was. He was shot, in broad daylight, walking on a main Street and paralysed from the legs down through damage to the nerve-endings in his spine. He was only 20 years old when this happened. To worsen the matter, this isn’t the only time he’s been shot either. He was shot again, the second time whilst in his wheelchair, this time not even through gang dispute but just for being mistaken for the wrong person (whilst in a wheelchair?!).
Join a gang or be in the way of the gangs. That’s just how it goes here” he assured me, as if a known science.
The second gentleman then informed me that he had just himself got out of the penitentiary. Of which he has already been admitted 3 times for separate crimes, at the mere age of 22. I hesitated to ask what he was in there for, but did anyway, to which in the most matter of fact way he presented his answer “stealing”.
We can’t afford things so we had to take them. My parents could never afford to give me anything so I had to steal to try and keep up”.
He wore a badge on his top with a picture of an African-American guy on it, I asked what it was and he told me it was his friend who had been shot and sadly killed a month ago. They all wear a badge on their clothes with his face on to commemorate him. I felt like I’d entered a different world. Not knowing how to respond (the first time I’ve ever been speechless that I can remember) I asked what they are doing with their lives now, and I was pleasantly greeted with the response that they’ve turned to music to get them off crime and off the streets. It’s the only thing they can focus their energy into that prevents gangs and crime so they are putting everything they have into it.
“People don’t want to see us make it because of where we’re from, they want us to fail, but we’re going to do something with our lives, and music is going to take us there”.
(Please see link to video of them rapping at the end of blog, ‘They don’t want to see me make it’).
This encounter was just in a different league to anything I’ve ever experienced before. Firstly, i’d never met someone who had been shot in my life (I suddenly felt a surge of gratefulness that the UK had no fire arm possession laws). And secondly, the key and most powerful thing I noticed about these young men, is that they weren’t afraid, and in the moments I spent with them, I wasn’t either. I was sat in a city I’ve never been to, I knew nobody and was accompanied by three gentleman from south side, and all I felt was admiration. The boys spoke about death, shootings, crime and time in jail without so much as breaking a sweat, they were the furthest from afraid I’ve ever seen. Is it just me, or are all of these young men’s every day experiences pretty up there with or worse than even your worst fears? Being shot at? Going to jail? Close friends or loved ones dying? Death itself?
How could I justify my own petty fears of small spaces or extreme heights when Freedom collectively looked in the face of death and still felt no fear? How selfish of me to think my fears even belong when the very reason we fear is to protect us, and yet these boys well-know, for them, even being afraid cant protect them against a gunshot. They do not deserve to be presented with problems or fears worse than ours. These young men, two the same age as me, were born into poor families (62% of Chicago’s south and west side now live below the poverty line) and crime-filled neighbourhoods not through choice, that’s just the unjust intricacies of the world we live in. As a baby they didn’t choose where or how they’d be brought up, and my heart really goes out to them that through no fault of their own they have been subjected to this lifestyle which to them, is normal life. It is hard to even comprehend that the limited choices available to them are “Join a gang or be in the way of a gang”, that is a tangible problem. The bravest people I have ever spoken to, they run at their fears every day, and their fears run away.
My encounter with Freedrom is something I will always remember. As a born scaredy-cat of the looming shadow in the corner of my bedroom or the wind rattling against the front door. Freedom showed me not only that my small daily fears are wholly insignificant, but also that fear itself, does us little good. Apart from helping us to run faster (by releasing a hormone which increases our heart rate) or improving our eye-sight to see danger around us, then unless i’m in instant danger, it really doesn’t help in life’s everyday perceived issues. (Geek fact ~ the hormone released when we are afraid also slows/shuts down systems not needed for survival e.g. Our Digestive system and the increased flow of these hormones to a part of the brain called the ‘amygdala’ helps us focus on the danger even more and store it in our memory. Do you see now how bad it is to fear things that don’t deserve it unless you’re about to go on a run or fancy gaining some weight by shutting off your digestion? Bad bad bad, stop doing it)
The message is clear; be grateful for your small manageable daily fears in the pursuit to eliminate them as fears altogether. Not only is it unnecessary and extremely bad for your health to over-fear mundane things, there are so many people with tangible reasons to be afraid that aren’t, so who are we to be so selfish? Learn from Freedom that there are people in much more difficult situations than we are in life, and yet they are not afraid. The only real prison is fear, and the only real freedom, is freedom from fear.
I asked Freedom what kind of music they are focusing on and was lucky enough to have them sing for me in the park; please see live video on; http://www.instagram/Soph2s, ‘They don’t want to see me make it’
Carry on fighting brave soldiers.
Please like/share accordingly to show your support for these guys, they are tagged in the Instagram Video & it would mean the world to them <<3