how to defeat fear

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When I worked in Bucharest, we’d go out to lunch from time to time. Our office was in a building that had a soup/deli thing on the ground floor.  The other option was a McDonald’s about a block away.  When you were there in the winter, the sidewalks would be covered by ice – public services like salt and scraping were nonexistent – but that wasn’t the biggest kicker.  I had been in numerous freezing cold locales by that point:  Moscow, Siberia, Poland, Boston.  The real problem was the dogs… and the fear of those dogs.

Wild dogs roamed up and down the streets in our part of downtown Bucharest. I don’t know if they were wild dogs, or just abandoned pets, but they seemed bold enough to be wild and tame enough to shy away at the last second from a human.  They were frightening, though.  They’d gather around you and snarl and bark and generally activate your caveman brain’s fear of things with teeth.

We’d watch out the windows around lunchtime to see if the local pack of wild dogs were nearby before setting off for McDonald’s. I’m not sure if they would have attacked.  They acted fierce, and they looked hungry, but I never saw them attack a person.  They were hungry, for sure.  If they came close, I’d throw a rock or two.  Usually that scared them off.  Once or twice it didn’t, and I learned a trick – barking LIKE a dog at a dog freaks them out.  They fear that as much as you might fear them. But before you laugh at me, imagine having a pack of 10-12 hungry wild dogs snarling at you and think about what you’d do in that situation.

We would go to McDonald’s, of course. If you can look out the window and see that you’re likely to make it, you may chance it, because you can only eat soup in the company canteen so many days in a row.  A cheeseburger starts to look like a filet mignon steak after a while.

But those dogs were frightening. Years before going to Bucharest, while living in Moscow, I had read reports of a young woman torn to shreds by wild dogs a few blocks from my home.  You’d have to assume she was drunk, or stoned, or just unlucky.  But people do get attacked by dogs, so a pack of wild dogs is not something to shrug at. Week after week (I spent a lot of time in Bucharest) I’d venture by those dogs…sometimes walking through the midst of them. 

Towards the end, as I mentioned, I snarled at them. They cringed when they saw me coming.  I had little fear of them.  The first time I saw them I was terrified, and the last time I saw them I was caught somewhere between disgust and pity, but fearless. Not to go all Aesop on you here, but the moral of the story is that even things that seem scary can be conquered.  Don’t assume that you will always be afraid.  Someday – if you try hard enough, and beat away at it every day – you’ll beat it.  Fear is just uncertainty about the unknown.

photo by Javiercit0