Fear – Friend or Foe

November 22, 2001 … I stand on the edge of the Batoka Gorge in Zambia Africa beholding the majesty of a spectacular canyon etched out of the rock by the river below. 54 metres separate me from the bottom of the canyon down the sheer rock face. I see opportunity. An opportunity for an experience of a lifetime. An opportunity that I may never have again. An opportunity that must be seized! While I marvel at the beautiful landscape I wait my turn to experience … opportunity.

Strapped into the rigging at the very top of the Gorge appears an unwilling participant. Andrew has joined me in this adventure, but he’s got a different perspective on the amount of “fun” this experience contains. His thoughts race and are in complete conflict with his actions. Why am I doing this? What is this going to prove? Is it safe? How can this be safe, we’re in Africa? How could my brother go down this cliff? I know I’ve already paid for the thrill, but I can’t continue.

The guides prod; “You’re doing good”, “You just have to let yourself down”. “Trust me I’ve got you”.

“You’re safe, you can’t fall.” “Don’t worry, you’re secure”

Andrew hears the words, but just can’t absorb them. The onlookers are careful to encourage, but not push; uncertain if they would be able to follow through with the same daring task. The guides continue their prodding in search of the trigger to send their guest down the cliff face. As they continue their games of coercion and manipulation they dance around Andrew’s breaking point to find out what it will take to push him over the edge.

Andrew looks nervous, scared, bewildered; still in the midst of a power struggle that he just can’t shake. Thoughts of opportunity and adventure seem to have withered and died with the onset of fear and terror. Frozen in the midst of a view he’s unable to change and a paradigm he cannot shift. Racing thoughts, spinning in a frenzy as the poison takes hold and fear begins squeezing the life out of its victim. It seems that on this day, fear is unrelenting and defeat is imminent. Unable to continue with the mental anguish Andrew crawls back to the safe confines of the drop zone entry. In exhaustion, Andrew slumps back on the bench defeated and broken.

For me, the delay was gruelling and my patience waning as I watched fear slowly swallow up its prey. Finally, my turn has come, but what should be made of this gripping reality? Is this opportunity or tempting fate? Do his fears have any merit? I rationalize that not only can I control the speed of my descent, but also that these guides have lead thousands of people over this very cliff. What an amazing view, this is going to be a rush! Strap me in, let’s do this!

Fear can be debilitating, but it can also be healthy. The challenge is not to let fear rule your actions, but to let it guide you and help create positive awareness. Thinking back to when I first encountered power tools I had a healthy fear of the tools that caused me to adhere to safe practices. Over time some of that respect was lacking and lead to an unsafe use of a tool which, in turn, was responsible for my injury. Don’t let familiarity lull you into an unsafe habit … harness some of those fears and keep an awareness of potential threats. Being safe isn’t about living with a complete lack of risk, but being aware of the risks that exist and managing them to a level you’re comfortable with.

Can you identify tools or processes that you work with regularly that are dangerous and you used to fear? Is the hazard still real? What can you do to remind yourself to respect the tool or process?

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