Wednesday, February 12, 2014

Irrational Fears

Most people have an irrational fear of something.  Some of these are only tenuously irrational, though.  People will confess to an irrational fear and then say something like "dogs."  Well, the fact of the matter is that it's entirely possible a dog could bite you, though chances are it won't unless you do something mean to it first.  Or you smell like bacon.  Hell, I've bitten people because they smelled like Krispy Kremes, so I can't go blaming dogs for their occasional misguided action.  Also before anyone wacks out on me, I need to point out that while I am predominantly a cat person, I am also very fond of dogs and am not implying that dogs are sitting there plotting to bite/eat everyone who walks down the pike.  (I may be but the dogs aren't.)  So, that's actually a rational fear, because it's something that could actually happen.

On the other hand I've never heard anyone say that they're afraid to ride in a car.  That would actually be an extremely rational fear because car accidents happen A LOT, and statistically most people in the United States are probably going to be involved in at least one car wreck in their lives.  And no one runs around thinking "oh shit there might be a car wreck today."

Then there's the next level of somewhat but not quite irrational.  These are the people who WILL NOT get into the water at the beach because they saw Jaws back in 1977.  One word, people: FICTION.  (Perhaps these people are afraid of a giant rubber shark just like the one in the movie, which of course is totally rational.  If I saw a giant rubber shark swimming toward me I would realize that I had just lost my damn mind and I would freak out.)  Really though, while shark attacks do happen, they are extremely rare.  I think fewer than twenty occurred worldwide last year and when you consider that on any given day there are probably a million or so people swimming at beaches, the odds are pretty slim that Mr. Shark is going to target you as a tasty snack. Still, it could happen.

I am also at that level of irrational because I am terrified of flying.  On planes, that is.

See, this is irrational for the same reason that fearing shark attacks is irrational.  Statistically I'm highly unlikely to die in an airplane crash, but the fact that if I'm on an airplane and it crashes I will definitely die means that there's a tiny bit of reason there.  It could, in fact, happen--though it's bloody unlikely because I avoid the issue by not flying.  Hell, I never go anywhere more than two hundred miles from Richmond anyway so it's not like I need to fly.

But then you have your actual, utterly irrational fears.  I have one and I share it with a friend and colleague.  We are both afraid of midgets.  When asked why, we--being English teachers--feel compelled to remind the questioner what "irrational" means.  I'm not afraid the midgets are coming by night to bite my knees, nor do I harbor any belief that they're all children of the devil or anything.  I'm just plain afraid of them and that's why it's an irrational fear.  Also fear of the dark: The dark is not going to do anything to you. It's what's IN the dark you need to worry about.

Naturally I love reading about all those weird phobias that have names, like triskaidekaphobia (that would be the fear of the number thirteen) simply because they're all so very irrational.  What do you expect the number thirteen to do to you? Render you unable to count accurately? I always picture those number-shaped birthday candles, a 1 and a 3, grinning maniacally and lurking in dark alleys.

Some of the good ones I've encountered recently:  one student is afraid of birds.  Not even raptors, which could probably really ruin your day if they wanted to.  Just plain birds.  You know, because barn swallows are known for homicidal tendences.  Her reasoning? "They're gonna peck my eyes out. Like in The Birds."
Again: FICTION!!! But I suppose it could technically happen so it's probably one of those not-totally-irrational things.  And thunder: lots of people seem to be afraid of thunder. Why? "It's loud." Well, so is the godawful music you listen to and you're not afraid of that. Thunder doesn't do anything to you.  Lightning does and it doesn't seem to bother anyone.

The best of all time though is the kid who's afraid of cabbage.  Cabbage. You know, that leafy green vegetable that is a staple of Eastern European cooking?  Again--cabbage is a vegetable. It is not self-mobile. It is also not sentient.  It couldn't do anything to you if it wanted to but being all non-sentient it can't even want to.

Though now that I think about it, that plastic tub of leftover cole slaw in my fridge did move a little bit last night.  It'll be forming a mayonnaisey army any day now.

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