Somewhere along the way, the fire department established that the way to educate fire safety was to get into the minds of the elementary schoolers of the house.
Once a year, from the ages of five to nine, a representative from the fire department would come down to my elementary school, show us a soon-to-be-classic video complete with talking smoke detectors, and assert the need for a plan of escape. Fear would spread like wildfire as us children were reminded of the pressing danger we were apparently in. An annual reminder of our parent’s procrastination. 2006, get a fire safety plan; 2007, get a fire safety plan; 2008 - seriously, you still don’t have one? Get a freaking fire safety plan.
And on that same day every year, I would repeat these words when I returned to the house I then viewed as kindling. I would strictly inform my mother of this “Need. To have. A. Fire. Safety. Plan!” terrified by the thought of my house erupting in flames and not having an orderly set of instructions to follow.
I was paranoid. About everything. I remember being ten and not allowing anyone to eat in the car - for fear they would choke. I remember being overly sensible on the swings, not jumping off because I was scared of falling to my unfortunate doom. I made people promise me they wouldn’t do this, wouldn’t do that. Kind-of jokingly, but also kind-of not.
And you should be scared. There’s a lot of things out there that can hurt you or hurt someone else – and I don’t know, maybe I’m crazy – but worrying about them seems to just be another form of being aware of them. Recognizing the existence of danger, perhaps. Or perhaps it is succumbing to, bowing down, worshipping the fear so it doesn’t break off and become reality. And I’d frankly prefer to leave danger to the hypothetical situations, thank you very much.
“Please don’t hurt me,” your paranoia whispers, thinking if we know to swim to the side in a riptide and not run with scissors and never text and drive or do flips on a trampoline and never laugh while we eat or poke a 400-pound black bear, we can avoid danger, avoid pain.
Is this just responsibility? Doing the safe and smart thing, and looking out for others, even if simply because you are pushed by the fear of the “what if?” They never tell you responsibility comes with (or should come with?) fear. And in theory, the two shouldn’t be related. Doing the right, rational thing should be possible without a motivation of the horrible things that might happen if you don’t. But in reality, it just makes logical sense that fear is the primary motivator in making responsible choices. In making good choices. The right choices. Because if you’re not scared of the outcome, it doesn’t seem to matter which path you take to get there.
And this mindset worked, a lot of the time. My cousin’s irrational fear that a shark was absolutely going to eat her kept her out of the ocean on beach vacations. But she never got hurt. My fear of falling kept me from jumping off the swings. And I never fell.
But paranoia, fear, and even responsibility – it can be crippling. I never felt the rush of flying off a swing. My cousin never discovered the fun that is the ocean. For fear can limit your ability to take risks, cause you to get caught up in the actions of others, forget about yourself, and worry and worry and worry. Don’t let it.
And with such a balance in mind, implement a little fear, a little paranoia, into your lives. Don’t get excessive. Live a little, but only so much that you don’t die. Stop, drop, and roll exists for a reason. Fire safety plans exist for a reason. A good reason. Inspired by the idea that burning alive sounds less fun than, well, not burning alive.
You’ll thank me.