Friday, April 8, 2011

The Fear Factor

Nothing succeeds like failure!
Fear is a powerful motivator of behaviour
that seldom takes us where we want to go.
~ Gordon Livingston, MD

I’ve just finished reading a couple of books by GordonLivingston, MD, a psychotherapist with a wonderful take on life that I find refreshing, and encouraging. The books are Too Soon Old, Too Late Smart and his follow up to that book, And Never Stop Dancing.

Each book consists of thirty short chapters bearing headings such as The most secure prisons are those we construct for ourselves, We are afraid of the wrong things, Not all who wander are lost, and We are defined by what we fear. There are also chapter headings like Marriage ruins a lot of good relationships and my favourite, The primary difference between intelligence and stupidity is that there are limits to intelligence.

Clearly, Gordon is a doctor with a sense of humour!

Many of the excellent essays in the books have got me thinking about the issue of fear, and how it is that far too many people let their fears rule their lives. Often these fears are not grounded in reality, but are dominated and fed by endless bad news stories in print media, on television, and now across the Internet.

With regards to travel, many people prefer to stay close to home (literally), and rarely, if ever, venture further than the edge of town. The idea of heading off on an extended holiday terrifies some people. Others that do travel for long (or short) periods, are not happy unless every stop along the way has been booked and confirmed, and arrival and departure times are mapped and plotted with military precision. Not that there’s anything wrong with this. At least these people are travelling.

There is a huge leap of faith involved in travel. Each journey we make allows us to confront our fears; gives us many chances to test our planning, organisational and negotiating skills; provides numerous opportunities to meet and strike up conversations with complete strangers – often using the barest knowledge of the local language, and each journey also challenges us to face up to our own particular prejudices (and fears).

Since 2008 I have made two extended journeys – one of seven months, and the other of eight months duration. I can honestly say that I never once faced a threat to my welfare or safety during those trips. Any ‘threats’ I did face were entirely of my own imagining, and were always a result of my ignorance and prejudices.

Wherever I have travelled, from the richest countries (the USA, France, and Britain, to one of the poorest (Cambodia), I have been lucky enough to encounter people who were friendly, welcoming, and more than happy to see me visiting their city, village or country. They were not out to rip me off, rob me (or worse), or treat me with anything but care and respect. The one exception on my 2008 trip was the team of pickpockets I encountered in Athens (see Three Man Crush), and the scammers and con artists I encountered around some of the major tourist attractions in Paris (see One Ring to Scam Us All), but my own gullibility is at fault here, and although I was conned out of a few Euros in Paris, I was never under threat of personal injury or harm.

When we are young we are more inclined to take chances and risks, but as we grow older we tend to be more careful and conservative with our actions and risk taking behaviour. As I approach my senior years, I too have become more cautious and careful, and this is wise and prudent. However, age has not stopped me from constantly pushing myself to be more adventurous with my travels and to stay ‘young’ in other ways.

For example, my Greyhound Bus trip from New York City to New Orleans last year (my six part report begins here…), or my month in Cambodia this past March (of which I still have much to write), both challenged me to go beyond my comfort zone in terms of organization, patience, stamina, methods of travel, and in many other ways.

The next time I head overseas for an extended journey I will almost certainly be in my 63rd year. But this is still quite young in many respects. While travelling in Cambodia I met a 77 year old German man travelling alone, and thought, “Why not? More importantly I thought, “Why not me?”

I also met an elderly couple from Sri Lanka travelling in the company of their much younger nephew. We met as they were descending (and I was ascending), a steep, twisting, root and boulder covered dirt path that led to a series of stone carvings known as Kbal Spean. Although the climb was only some 1500 metres in length, under the heat and humidity of the noon day sun, it wasn’t long before I and everyone else I encountered, were covered with sweat and struggling.

As I recall, the elderly man was 82 years of age, and his wife not much younger. Again I thought, “If they can do it, why can’t I?”

Why not, indeed. As long as I am in reasonably good health, there is no logical reason that I can’t still be travelling when I am 77 or even 82 years of age. The only thing stopping me is fear and the eternal – or should that be, infernal  “What if?”

As long as I can continue to overcome those fears and doubts, I’m sure I will be travelling for a long time yet.

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