Using Empathy to Fend off Fear.

As I sit on a flight from Columbus, Ohio to Phoenix, Arizona, suspended 30,000 feet above the ground that I usually walk, I cannot help but think about human fear. I wonder how many folks on this trek have a fear of flying, or what other fears they might have? My mind then wonders to the question of, ‘why am I not afraid of flying?’ 

The fear is certainly in my genes. My extended family is almost exclusively terrified of the notion of flight. But for me, there are few places that feel noticeably more comfortable, than the seat of a plane. Part of this, I would bet, is a result of my early-childhood plane trips with my father. However, when I really consider my personal relationship with this fear, I think my lack of it comes from a very interesting source…

I trust the pilots, beyond belief.

These two individuals that I have never met, often that I never even see, control the destiny of my future, and that of more than 100 others. It’s a very interesting break-down, one that can absolutely strike a sense of fear. 

But even given the magnitude of this trust, I feel safe. I believe in their training, and thus, in the people who trained them. I believe in the individual who manufactured the wing, just as I do for whoever was in charge of fueling the plane. 

I am a big believer that much of our distrust, misunderstanding, and ultimately society-wide issues, come from a lack of empathy. We’ve heard this stressed before, but I want to dive into a different usage of 'empathy' with this pilot example. By taking a moment to consider, and understand that this pilot had to do certain things in order to be a pilot, we are deploying a different kind of empathy. While we often talk about it in relation to those who are different, and may have less, or may be disadvantaged, here we are empathizing with a skill or trade that we do not possess, and acknowledging that our lack-of-control in the matter of flight is ok. 

Now obviously, fear of flight, as with the fear of anything, comes with many other psychological factors and hurdles. It’s not always as simple as convincing yourself that you trust a pilot, but it’s a start.

The more important thesis here, is that the implication of empathy, is boundless. It can be applied in nearly any singular interaction that we have the pleasure, or the pain, of living through, and it can be the MVP, and the ultimate difference maker. Not just for us, but for a whole array of others as well. 

This is all about re-wiring our default setting when it comes to the unknown, or misunderstood. Whenever I interact with a situation in which I do not understand, or literally could never understand, I force myself to a default first to a position support and understanding, versus a stance of combat, and extreme scrutiny. This is not about being naïve, or not looking out for yourself, or living without skepticism. This is about being comfortable with the fact that, in some moments and instances, we ourselves do not have control, or maybe even a credible say, but we do always have an viewpoint. The questions and the search for understanding play a part, but this self-awareness piece is perhaps the most important to an empathetic mindset. Realizing who we are, and just as importantly, who we are not. Not looking upon the latter as a negative, but rather as a means to become a happier member of society.

In summary, question everything, but approach the question from a direction of positivity. I don’t think this is our default, but I do think we can change in favor of it, and I whole-heartedly believe that this change is better by a vast margin.