“Do we run from the bear because we are afraid, or are we afraid because we run from the bear?” (William James)
When I tell people about William James’ bear (see Running from the Bear – Nov 4, 2011), they usually say, “Yeh, so you don’t run from the bear and he eats you. Tell me about that Mr. Smarty Pants therapist.”
Well, that is a tough one.
I could point out that this is a not a real bear that James was talking about. The bear is a symbol of our fears. That usually doesn’t cut it because what the person is really asking is “What if I don’t run (act on my fears) and I get run over by life?”
Which reminds me of a story. Two guys are going on a nature walk in the woods. One of them shows up wearing running shoes. His friend asks him what the running shoes are for and he replies, “Just in case we run into any bears.” His friends scoffs and asks, “So, you think those shoes will let you outrun a bear.” “No,” replied the other, “I don’t need to outrun the bear. I just need to outrun you.”
Here is the bad news. You are going to get run over by life whether you run away or not. Some of life’s bears jump out from behind trees and there is no time to run and others are just too fast for you to out run them.
Here is the good news. I think getting run over by life once in a while is better than sitting on the sidelines.
Think about football players. They get run over a lot. Sometimes they get hurt. We sit and watch them in the stands or on TV and talk about their mistakes and how they got run over. No, matter how much we sit and cheer, no matter how many stats we can quote about football, the fact is we’re not even in the game.
A young African American girl in Chicago was being interviewed on the news one day and the reporter asked her why bad things happen to people. She shrugged and repiied “Well, sometimes you eat the bear and sometimes the bear eats you.” Wisdom from a child and I bet she never read William James.
So, if you get in the game, you are going to lose, sometimes. And that’s a fact.
“Yeh, but you don’t have to walk right up to the bear and put your hand in his mouth,” is what you’re thinking, right.
You can just stay fearful and anxious and try to plan everything so that nothing goes wrong or you stay away from situations that cause anxiety. Then you’re safe right?
Do I have to ask the obvious question? If you are so safe, then why are you so fearful and anxious?
Less than Useful Advice.
Whatever your fear is, maybe you need to try walking up to that bear and stick your hand in his mouth. If he bites you, smack him on the snout and say, “Bad Bear!” I bet he runs away.
Then go eat some ice cream. Wash your hands first.