What makes us fearful when we are all grown up?
My parents had just come home from work and as they drove towards the house, something caught their attention. They felt uneasy as if something was terribly wrong. In front of them, were three children: my sister, then about 7, her friend and myself, 6 years of age. We were hunched over playing with something, something that they couldn’t clearly see at first. Then, just as they pulled up, their fears were confirmed.
Their beloved children were innocently laughing and giggling as they played with not one, not two but three green snakes- green mambas. (A bite from one of these has been known to kill the victim in less than 3 hours.) The loud scream from my mother or the shouting from my father must have chased off the snakes. By the time they got to us, they were long gone.
I have observed my life in comparison to my 7-month daughter and am now bold enough to say that more things frighten me than they do her. Its been very puzzling to know that most of us have grown up this way.
What makes us fearful when we are all grown up yet we were born fearless? What makes us afraid to play full-out, afraid to be ourselves, afraid to dream big?
A boy, a rabbit and a ball of cotton
Shortly before World War 1, a psychologist by the name John Watson carried out an experiment to find out why? He set out to prove that anyone could be made more fearful, more courageous or more loving simply as a result of stimulus from their environment.
For this social experiment, he worked with a boy named Albert. Little Albert was not quite one year old when Watson and his associates began their experiments. First, they let the Albert play with a white rat, a rabbit, a furry dog and a ball of cotton. All of these objects were soft and cuddly. Albert reached for them without hesitation.
Then one day, as he presented the rat, Watson made a loud bang behind Albert’s head. The loud noise startled the little child so much that he whimpered. Each of the next seven days, this act was repeated. By the end of the week, Albert cried and crawled away from the rat as soon as it appeared.
He had been conditioned to fear an object he had not feared before because it came with an unpleasant stimulus-the loud noise. Moreover, when the rabbit and other furry objects were presented, Albert now feared them too, even though they had never been directly associated with the loud noise.
Albert’s mother was furious and wanted her son out of the program. Watson explained that if they didn’t reverse the results, Albert would live with this fear all his life. His mother reluctantly agreed.
First Watson played with a rabbit himself in the boy’s presence, showing him that it did not harm him. This did not reduce the boy’s fear. Then he decided to neutralize the boy’s fear by introducing a pleasurable stimulus whenever the rabbit was present.
One day while he was enjoying his food, the rabbit was brought just inside the door at the far end of the room. Albert eyed the animal warily but went on eating. Over a period of several days, the rabbit was gradually brought closer until finally, the boy could eat happily with the rabbit beside him- or even in his lap.
What can we learn?
Remember the three children playing with green mambas; we all at one point in our lives were just as brave as they. However, as we grew older, we have listened to society tell us not to speak too loud or sit in this way, or not climb to a certain height for fear that we may fall. Their intentions may have been good but as their words sunk in slowly, we have all learned how to be afraid, how to play small and aim low.
I believe that everyone can unlearn this fear and in its place, develop courage and love. All we need is to learn to stand up for ourselves and fight for our dreams and passions. To bravely pursue whatever goal we set our mind upon. We can learn how to be fearless once more. We can learn once again to be as brave as we were when we were children.