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When Fear Drives Us

This week, 33 young people lost their lives to a sniper on the campus of Virginia Tech University. This tragic loss, the result of a young man crossing the thin line between rational and irrational behavior, has caused many students to rethink their involvement in university and the campus community. My article this week addresses fear and anxiety and what happens when we let our anxieties and fears control our lives.

My heart goes out to the families, friends and loved ones of the 33 young men and women slain this week. I grieve for the loss of life and the loss of human potential. But even more so, I grieve for those who will internalize this event and allow their anxiety and fear of another, similar incident to control their present and futures.

The Buddha said there are two kinds of fear: healthy fear (as in being fearful of a rattle snake as the bite is poisonous) and unhealthy fear (as in fearing to participate in higher education and/or live on campus because some unknown person at some undefined time in the unknown future could potentially threaten you or cause you harm). Healthy fear serves a purpose-preventing harm. Unhealthy fear serves no purpose; instead it serves to distort the way we see the world and others around us.

The incident at Virginia Tech was absolutely tragic. But, it wasn't an event we could take proactive steps to prevent. Perhaps some professors or other persons may have had insight into this particular individual's inner darkness; but the reality is, a seemingly normal person can cross the line into abnormal in a blink of an eye--without any indication of an inner struggle with rationality. This sniper could have been a customer in the mall; a clerk at your local grocery store; a bus driver with a load of passengers; etc. The point here is not that there's a high likelihood of this activity occurring; but that events such as this are so utterly unpredictable.

If we allow ourselves to become anxious to go outside, to roam in crowds, to attend classes, to take an active part in our campus communities; or, and this is decidedly much more damaging, if we allow our anxiety to create a sense of fear that essentially prevents us from pursuing your education, then we are creating a psychological and physical situation that is extremely unhealthy. When we fear the uncontrollable--or in other words, when we allow our delusions and perceptions to create disharmony--we create a situation where we relinquish all control of our lives. We find ourselves in disharmony. We develop psychological and physical illnesses. We lose ourselves to the fear.

We can allow our fears to rule us; or we can consciously choose to rule our fears. Fear should serve a purpose. It should motivate us to take some action. Yes, we must recognize that the being human is a vulnerable entity. We should be vigilent regarding our personal safety. We should take normal safety precautions and use common sense in determining the appropriateness of and the nature of our interpersonal relationships. Or, to speak plainly, we should live our lives skillfully.

If you are concerned with safety on your campus enroll in a personal safety course. Join your campus crimewatch committee (or form one if you don't have one). Become an active participant in your community. Do something positive and proactive. Take control of those things you can control. Most importantly, let go of those things you cannot control. Release your fears and live fully in the present.

Curious about how your campus rates in terms of student safety? Security on Campus, Inc., a non-profit organization, has partnered with the U.S. Department of Justice to prevent violence, substance abuse and other crimes in college and university campus communities across the United States, and to compassionately assist the victims of these crimes. Visit their website for information on campus crime rates, links to victim resources, and other helpful information.

Until next time!

Lynn Byrne

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Content copyright © 2013 by D. Lynn Byrne, Ph.D.. All rights reserved.
This content was written by D. Lynn Byrne, Ph.D.. If you wish to use this content in any manner, you need written permission. Contact Nicole Amos for details.

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