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Scarvey column: Fear can be our friend

By Katie Scarvey
kscarvey@salisburypost.com
It definitely wasn’t our normal dinner table conversation.
“Just please don’t ask yourself What Would Jesus Do,” I told my older daughter, Spencer. “Nothing good can come of that.”
She stared at me wide-eyed for a few seconds and began to laugh. Of all the advice she’s ever gotten from me, that was probably the strangest.
We were talking about her solo road trip to the Outer Banks and brainstorming about what could go wrong ó like her Jetta blowing a gasket. We were going over driving scenarios ó like what she would do if some guy by the side of the road was trying to flag her down for a ride.
That’s what prompted the anti-WWJD advice. I think Jesus might stop for a hitchhiker, and I really don’t want her to do the same.
Normally, I am all for being a good Samaritan. But a lone female driver should listen to her gut feeling of fear that says picking up a stranger might not be a good idea.
Fear is not something we usually praise ó often, we are trying to quell it, and for good reason. Constant anxious fearfulness is debilitating.
But fear can definitely be our friend.
One of the tough things about being a parent is to help equip your children to navigate life confidently and fearlessly, at least most of the time. But we also need to encourage them to respect feelings of fear when they surface ó and to allow fear to do its rightful job, which is not to paralyze but to protect.
In his book “The Gift of Fear,” Gavin DeBecker explains what a powerful survival tool fear is, and how we ignore it at our peril.
After I finished, I had Spencer read it. DeBecker speaks powerfully to women, who are often reluctant to follow their fear instincts about people if it means behaving in a way that might be perceived as rude or simply “not nice.” That led to her asking me if I thought it was weird or paranoid that whenever she passes a man when she is out running, she typically swivels her head to make sure he hasn’t turned around to follow her.
No, I said. You’re not paranoid. You’re just honoring your gift of fear.
DeBecker wants to teach people to pay attention to fear ó not to ignore it. Visceral fear, he explains, arises from very sophisticated calculations our bodies make at a subconscious level.
When I was little, my subconscious calculations involved deciding whether or not I would scooch onto Santa’s lap and whisper that I wanted a Chatty Cathy.
Sitting wearily near the snow tires in our local Sears, Santa had a face full of broken capillaries and suspicious facial hair. He struck me as creepy, not jolly. My gut said, “Keep your distance!”
The last thing I wanted to do was perch on the red velvet thighs of a strange man and share my innermost desires.
Fortunately, my parents did not insist on the lap-sitting, and when I became a parent, I never insisted either. I totally understood why my kids were not dragging me into the line of kids to see Santa at the mall.
So if you’re a hitchhiker dressed like Santa, please don’t be offended when you get passed by.
And I’m definitely not sitting in your lap.

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