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Giving Fear the ‘Greenlight’ (Day 4)

Raise your hand if you’ve read Greenlights by Matthew McConaughey? (I didn’t really think this one through but I’m hoping lots of hands just shot up in the air). If you haven’t, I highly recommend you add it to your summer reading list or even listen to it on Audible if that’s your preferred method of consuming books (I heard his narration is incredible btw). Greenlights was one of dozens of books I was very anxious to read and thankfully it lived up to all my expectations. Surpassed them even.

There’s a part in the book where McConaughey talks about the role parents play in creating their children’s fears. He’s a father himself so of course he’s speaking from his own personal experience in this instance. Babies are a blank slate when they’re born, like we all were at some point in time. Based on our experiences and what we learn or pick up from the influential people in our lives, our beliefs, likes, dislikes, etc. are shaped. But have you ever thought about that from the standpoint of your fears? Or a child’s fears? I want you to close your eyes and think back to when you were a child. When you’d run around in the summertime, carefree, joking, playing with your friends without a worry in the world. It wasn’t until something ‘bad’ happened to a friend, whether they scraped their knee, fell, broke a bone, or whatever the determined consequence of their ‘careless’ action was, that you and your friends became more mindful of the path you were traveling. That or your parents hollered at you and your friends to ‘slow down!’ ‘be careful!’ ‘watch out!’ ’don’t do that!!‘ etc.

I’ll preface this by saying in no way, shape or form am I advocating for a hands off parenting approach. I’m not advocating for any kind of parenting approach in fact. I’m 29 and the thought of being a parent occupies a very VERY distant future for me. But, I would like to challenge you (and myself, all of us really) to stop and think about this particular theme from McConaughey’s book, ‘Greenlights.‘ We are fearless creatures until fear is instilled in us, which often comes by way of our parents and sometimes even their own fears. What would happen if we empowered our children (and ourselves!) to create their own fears based on their individual experiences and not necessarily our own?

I contemplated this theme yesterday when we visited Blue Hole Park in Georgetown, Texas. It’s a beautiful watering hole in Georgetown, open to the public and a popular destination to cool off during those hot and humid summer days. We arrived early to claim our spot and were quickly surrounded by numerous families equipped with their pop-up tents, coolers, and lunch spread to lay out and enjoy the sunshine.

From where we were sitting on the opposite side of the main area near the entrance we had the perfect view of the weekend family outing playing out on the shores of the Georgetown watering hole. We were more interested in getting some sun, spending time in the water and enjoying a little bit of reading on our Sunday but it proved to be an ideal people watching destination.

My attention was quickly stolen by a little boy, probably 4 or so, and his dad who were traveling through the water. There were about 4 different ‘pools’ or bodies of water divided by small, man-made dividing walls. The walls were easy to walk across to get from one side of the watering hole to the other but they also made it easy for swimmers to climb over from one section of the watering hole or one pool to the next. This little boy and his dad were straddling one of the walls, transitioning from pool to pool.

‘Don’t go down there, don’t do it,’ I heard the dad urge the small boy, sitting on the wall, looking to the pool below. Mind you the little guy was fully equipped with his water shoes, floaties, everything he needed to support him and keep him safe during his day at the watering hole. Well, as expected, the little boy paid absolutely no mind to his dad’s warning and quickly hopped off the wall to the bigger pool below.

Guess what? Nothing happened. His dad was immediately by his side, the water was still and shallow and the little boy splashed around with pure, unadulterated joy as he explored new, uncharted territory. There was nothing to worry about. In that moment, I thought about Greenlights and parent’s role in implementing fear in their children’s minds . Why did that

father warn this little boy against jumping from one pool to the next? Did he think it was the right thing to do? The thing he should do as a parent of a small child in a public watering hole? Did he warn him because of his own fears of this large body of water? Perhaps he had his own traumatic experience as a child? Did he warn him because he didn’t trust himself in that situation should anything have gone wrong? While in this situation nothing went wrong and the little boy obviously paid no attention to his father’s warnings, will they ring true in his tiny subconscious the next time he finds himself in a similar situation…

Of course there’s always the chance that something will go wrong, something bad will happen but, what if it doesn’t? How often does the ‘what if’ the ‘bad thing’ actually happen? Can you think back on those situations in your own life? As someone who’s very risk averse and considers myself a bit of a scaredy cat, even I have trouble thinking of those moments where the thing I was scared of actually happened. Where it actually came to fruition. And even if/when it did…Was it really as bad as I had hyped it up to be?

Like I said earlier, I’m not here to suggest you let your children run wild and live recklessly until they seriously hurt themselves, not at all. Instead, I’m urging you to think about the environment you’ve created either for your kids or more importantly for yourself. Since I don’t have kids yet I can only reflect on the personal environment I’ve curated for myself as a young adult. Do I encourage myself to take risks, try new things, take chances, even if I’m not always confident in the outcome? Fearful of the outcome even. Or do I project the terror of the worst possible case scenario onto the situation and keep myself from, well, living a little? To be honest, I think I fall in the latter category more often than not. What about you? Where in your life could you take more risks? Perhaps jump from one section of the ‘watering hole’ in your own life to the next despite ’warnings’ from friends and family?…

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