Little Jimmy’s family was sitting around the dinner table having a polite conversation, when little Jimmy asked his dad, “How does fear grow?”

“What do you mean son?”

“Well, I can see that it makes sense to be afraid when you are standing on a cliff top and don’t want to fall over the edge, but my friend at school is terrified of asking or answering questions in class.  He told me that even the thought of raising his hand and having everyone look at him makes him shake and he wants to crawl under the table and cry.  He wasn’t always like that, he used to be so confident.  How does someone become so afraid of something like that?”

“Why do you ask?”

“He doesn’t seem to mind, but I heard the teacher say to his mum that she was worried about him.  Why should she worry?  Surely being afraid of raising your hand in class isn’t a big deal.  I don’t understand.”

The father pushed his chair back from the table and looked into the distance for a moment.

“Do you remember your Uncle Billy?” he asked.

“Yes, he was killed by a bear a couple of years ago,” replied Jimmy.

“Yes, he was, but there’s a story behind it.  One day, your uncle Billy found a bear cub in the woods near his house.  He couldn’t see its mother and it didn’t look as though it could fend for itself, so Uncle Billy fed the bear.  He would take small scraps of food to the bear in the woods every day, until one day it followed your uncle home.  It eventually moved from the backyard to the lounge room, eating more and more and growing bigger and bigger.  Uncle Billy was concerned about the bear in his lounge room, but it had got to a point where he didn’t feel as though he could do anything but continue to feed it, enabling it to get even bigger.”

“What happened next?” little Jimmy asked.

“We were all concerned about the bear and tried to tell your uncle to stop feeding it, but by this time he didn’t know any different.  The bear was a part of his life and he couldn’t imagine living without it, even though it was starting to damage the furniture and impact his social life.

“Then one day, the bear stood up on its hindquarters, charged your uncle Billy and hit him with a single swipe of his powerful paw.  He was killed instantly.”

“That’s very sad, I didn’t know that, but what has it got to do with fear?”

The dad looked at his son and ruffled his hair, “Our fears often start as something small and innocuous.  But we let them into our lives and keep feeding them until they get bigger and bigger, eventually taking over and killing us, perhaps not literally, but in a way that limits our ability to live the life that we’re meant to.”

“I think I understand, but what should my friend at school do?”

“Raise his hand the next chance he gets.”

“But he’s terrified!  What if he asks a silly question or has the wrong answer?  It will kill him?”

“No Jimmy,” dad replied, “That won’t kill him, but being held back by his fears will.  The more he faces it and does something about it the better he’ll feel.  The second time won’t be as bad as the first and eventually he’ll overcome his fear.  Remember, what you feed grows and what you starve dies.”

This story is dedicated to everyone who has been impacted by the horrors of the Boston Marathon this week.

I imagine that many people will be tempted to change their behaviour and gradually allow their fear to build until it inhibits their lives and stops them from doing things that they know they should.

Don’t feed your fears.

Live your life.

Do what you must with boldness and courage.

That’s how we win the battle against those who would terrorise us.

Previous post – The Literary Progression

Next post – The Perfect Conditions For Success