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Why We Need To Be Able To Feel Afraid

By Natasha Sharma

The Toronto Eaton Centre – one of the city’s busiest shopping destinations – has reopened their doors this morning following the shooting incident that took place in the shopping centre food court Saturday evening of this past weekend, which killed one individual and wounded several others. In the after-math of such a terrible event, it would seem natural to feel apprehensive with respect to heading back into the very place that it occurred. Some might feel downright afraid and decide not to go back at all. But here’s why you should.

To experience ‘fear’ is a basic animal instinct. Simply put: We didn’t have to learn how to feel fear; we were all born knowing how to already. Like any other feeling, fear is a direct response to our interpretation of the environment. It is a physical change that occurs within our bodies to prepare us to take action.

 

It is essential to our survival that we know how to feel fear. When our minds judge an event to be a potential threat to our survival (say for example, on a casual evening stroll we encounter a large agitated dog in our path, unleashed and advancing toward us, snapping and growling furiously while at it), we are likely to feel fear. Our muscles will tense, pupils will dilate, our breath will become shorter and quicker, heart rate will increase…all to prepare us to either confront the threat, or run away from it. A concept also known as ‘fight or flight’. (In this case, most likely flight!)

 

The problem occurs when we irrationally interpret an environment, event, or thing to be what we’re afraid of. Certainly, to have been present in the food court or even within or nearby the Eaton Centre at the time of Saturday’s shooting was a real threat, causing intense – and in some cases overwhelming – fear. But viewing it as an ongoing place of danger is not rational, and feeling afraid and perhaps avoiding it altogether is not helpful. In fact avoidance serves to heighten the fear, which then reinforces more avoidance.

 

When something like this happens anywhere, what we need to consciously ask ourselves is this: Out of all the time spent in this place, out of all the visits I and people in general have ever made, how many of them actually resulted in a threat to personal safety? If the percentage is significant, perhaps we may justifiably begin to interpret it as a relatively dangerous place. But if the probability is tiny – or minuscule as in this case – then we have little evidence that supports the idea that it is a danger, and no reasons to feel fear and avoid future visits.

 

Throughout life, there will always exist the ongoing ‘possibility’ that something unpleasant or downright terrible could happen. The unpredictability is part of the mystery. What we need to answer realistically as we choose to go places and do things in life is this: How likely is it?

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