I was talking with a group of people in very senior positions in a multinational organisation about fear: their fear of having genuine conversations with one another, their fear of telling the truth.
This, an organisation in which decisions made affect the lives of hundreds of thousands of people around the world.
“They won’t like what I have to say.”
“They won’t like me.”
“I won’t be in control of what happens.”
“It will damage our relationship.”
“I won’t know what to say.”
“It will open a can of worms.”
Each of their fears, when held up to scrutiny, turned out to be quite slight compared to the importance of the conversation – a conversation, not had, that affected them, their colleagues, and the many people who depended upon them.
How could it be, then, that they were so paralysed?
When we try to account for ourselves and what holds us back, we’re often looking in the wrong place.
Because we’re often not so scared of what will happen in the world through speaking up. We’re terrified of our feelings about it. We’re scared of our shame. We’re scared of our guilt. We’re scared of the gripping, swirling bodily feeling of being uncertain. We’re fearful of feeling fear. We imagine we won’t be able to tolerate it. And, of course, we’re scared that we’ll feel all of this if we start to talk about feelings or what goes on in our bodies.
And so it becomes self-sealing. We’ll do whatever it takes, including making up unsound explanations, to avoid encountering what we’re scared to feel.
And the more we avoid the conversation about all of this – about what we’re really scared of – the more we trap ourselves in an endless cycle of inaction, denial and turning away.