Friday, December 17, 2010

When Fear Kicks In

The biological intensity of our automatic reactions can be surprising, even when we know what we otherwise should be doing.

Recently, I bumped into another car in the parking lot. The space was a bit tighter than usual and I clipped the tire of a large pickup truck pulling in. I didn't think I was close--so to hear that sick "crunch" was a bit of a shock.

My heart pounding, I got out to look at the damage. My bumper had cracked. But it appeared there was, at most, a couple of tiny scratches on the other car.

I didn't know what to do. I knew that I should leave a note, but there didn't appear to be any damage. What if the person took advantage of me? What if he said that there was more to it than there was? It seemed like there were so many bad things that could happen if I left a note with my phone number. My body was telling me to get away, to run, before anyone saw what had happened. (And did I mention that the damage was only on my car?) So I started walking, quickly, to the Metro station, hoping that no one would see.

I had just about reached the escalator when I calmed down. And I realized I should still leave the note. Just in case. That I would feel guilty if I did not leave it, and I had absolutely been in the wrong. And I walked back, took the elevator down, walked to the car, and left a note with my phone, asking for a call or a text if there was any problem. As I am writing this, I don't know what is going to happen, but I feel better. Though  it was surprising to me how strong the instinct was to run, even when reason said to do something else.

This is why we practice--to begin to overcome those impulses, which may have protected us from saber-toothed tigers, but which now occasionally lead us astray.


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