At a Seattle women-in-business networking event last Thursday (thanks Su-Zette Sparks and all the other amazing women at Russell Investments) a woman I had just met called me fearless. When the word touched my ears, I turned around and looked behind me certain that it couldn’t possibly be me she was referring to. But it was me. Have you ever had one of those moments? It was as if she said to me “Oh you’re the star center for the Seattle Storm basketball team!” Yeah right. All 5’2” and every non-athletic, slightly overweight bit of me!
I used to have tons of fears, so being called fearless by a stranger is something new. I looked back across the Collective Self blog entries from the past year to see what happened to me and my fears that would warrant this reaction. As it turns out, I’m not fearless: surprise, surprise. It’s just that I’ve gotten a remarkable amount of experience seeing, facing, and moving through those fears as part of self-organizing groups and communities. To the point that, as of this summer, I became able to easily identify individual fears that show up as one of three types:
- Type 1: Scooby-Doo ghosts: that is, illusions that aren’t based in reality, can’t actually hurt me and those I care about, and therefore I don’t actually need (non-cartoon watching friends, Scooby Doo was a cartoon TV show favorite from my childhood that involved a group of friends solving mysteries and unmasking ghosts or monsters that ended up never actually being real ghosts or monsters)
- Type 2: Self-organizing group boundary indicators: a sign that I’m nearing the boundary of one of my self-organizing groups and should pay closer attention to the needs of the group and my individual self to either bring the group closer together or recognize that it’s time for me to let go of the group
- Type 3: Warnings of imminent danger to my individual self’s life, like the time a mother bear with cubs crossed my path while I was hiking in the woods
As an individual, I have #3 hard-wired into me. I think we all do. As self-organizing groups and communities, we also appear to have a triage system hard-wired into us that allows us to distinguish different types of fear and make smarter choices about how we choose to act.
Being seen by a stranger as fearless has its perks, I suppose. That woman, for example, may decide to actually look at the business card I gave her, connect with me again, or read the Collective Self blog, or even hire members of my community as consultants. But get closer to me, and you’ll know that this isn’t fearlessness. I move in the world today as self-organizing groups and communities—living beings that have remarkably good fear-identification and triage systems built into them.
Reflection on past Collective Self blog posts reveals a 3-step process for moving through individual fears that I’ve been living as these groups:
- Step 1: As an individual, feel fear/be afraid of something
- Step 2: As a self-organizing group, experience facing your fears, together, in a safe environment and get lots of practice identifying what type of fears your fears actually are (Scooby-Doo ghost? Boundary indicator? My self-organizing groups teach me both when they have my full attention “Lori, you’re being an idiot right now. That fear is unwarranted.” and just as often when they have just part of my attention or we’re focusing on something else entirely, as the examples that follow demonstrate.)
- Step 3: As a self-organizing community, move with and through the fear to the point that it no longer matters (just a Scooby Doo ghost) or is experienced as an important tool (a self-organizing group boundary indicator, for example)
I love examples, so here are three from my own experience. Suggest reading the example that sounds most interesting now and coming back to read all three when you’re consciously trying to understand and move through a fear of your own.
Fear example 1 – using a crowded urban park:
- Lori’s individual fear: “I will be mugged, bothered, and/or saddened by pan-handling and homeless people if I use Cal Anderson Park —the large park in my busy urban neighborhood—in the evenings.” This fear stopped me from using this park for years.
- Practicing using Cal Anderson Park as self-organizing groups:
- More fearlessly using Cal Anderson Park in the evenings as a self-organizing community (read from “In the Park” down): May 2011 example
Fear example 2 – using “woo woo” language:
- Lori’s individual fear: “I regularly experience synchronicity as these groups, but if I use words like synchronicity or serendipity in my writing, I may not be taken seriously as a researcher.”
- Practicing using the word synchronicity in my work, in February 2011
- In August 2011, more fearlessly using synchronicity (also notice community response in comments following the blog posts):
- Instance 1 (scroll to the details of hint #9 in this post)
- Instance 2 (scroll to The River Place in this post)
Fear example 3 – sharing my whole self:
- Lori’s individual fear: “If I share my whole self in the Collective Self blog, my individual experiences may interfere with the group and community experiences I am trying to document.”
- Practicing showing up as my whole self on the Collective Self blog (in both cases, as/helped by a self-organizing group):
- In February 2011
- In March 2011
- In August 2011, more fearlessly showing up as my whole self (more visibly showing up as a learner within the Collective Self community than ever before)
My self-organizing groups help me practice moving with and letting go of fear, and my self-organizing community pulls and pushes me through fears to give me an even broader and deeper perspective on them. As we pass through these fears together, the fears that don’t matter cease to exist and the fears that do matter have become valuable teachers and tools.
Lori, there is a personal fear here. No matter how hard I try to make a sound and meaningful comment, I am scared it will not reach the depth of your post. So, out of fear I am not making any comment
Hi Ali, leaving me a comment to tell me that you’re too scared to leave a comment. I love it!! I wish you lived in my neighborhood so we could have coffee together!
You know me. I’m far more interested in the conversations that we have as a group than in what I write on my own. If you want to talk but don’t want to leave a comment here, email me or Skype or call me. The groups I study may have remarkable “depth.” As an individual, I don’t have the same depth. Only as groups do I get it. Saying something deeper than me personally is a breeze. 🙂
Gavine wrote a great book for women and the men who care about them called The Gift of Fear… how we are often fearful of the wrong things and ignore signs of real danger, and what we should do to correct those tendencies… somewhat related to your wonderful post Lori…
I wrote about his ideas here
Thanks Kare, that’s a great post. You’re such a focused writer and a consistent inspiration for my rambling, talk about everything at once (until you forget what you’re talking about) researcher self! 🙂 Will tell my community about it.
The universe that sent me you as a co-worker is unbelievably generous!
Hi Lori. I think fear is deeply engrained into us as a survival mechanism. When fear is processed, our bodies react with a jolt of adrenaline. Fight or flight. In one of your reference articles, you imagine what the teenage purse-snatcher would feel like as he was being chased by 30 people. Very nice!
Being called “fearless” describes someone who is bold. “To boldly go…” was the tagline from the TV series “Star Trek”, and the character “Captain Kirk” fit the bill for courage.
In the film “Apocalypto” which portrays Mayan civilization, a village elder asks his son to not bring fear back to the village. Later as the elder is being killed, he smiles to his son and models courage; “no son of mine will ever have fear in his heart”. The elder relies on his own heritage of being part the forest for many generations to give him a moral permission to be courageous. In essence “his ancestors paved the way for him to be courageous”.
Our ancestors have paved our way here.
In my wife’s home country (Japan), each year many people honor and celebrate their ancestors during Bon-Odori. Food is prepared to nourish spirits that just happen to find their way home in the middle of August.
Bon-Odori is a time for re-connecting with the past. It climaxes with a great deal of community festivities, wide-spread street dancing, vibrant music, huge fireworks, colorful costumes, decorative umbrellas, children playing games, and street vendors selling barbecued octopus. The whole town is completely shut down and everybody literally is out in the streets.
Ancestors are given a nice send-off, as children make buoyant lanterns to float gracefully down the river. Watching hundreds of lanterns each with a lit candle floating down a river at night is an awesome sight! And it ends.
My daughter is in a new high school this year (we moved seven states to the southeast), and she is doing extremely well. She asked for my advice when she noticed some kids were copying from her test. I suggested that she ignore the copying, and offer to mentor others.
Einstein was rumored to have once pondered a question about the universe, and he may have phrased his question something like; “Is this universe a friendly place…?”, and the answer he wanted us to conclude is “YES”!
Hi Bob! i can tell I’m hungry because the first two words that stick in my mind after reading your great comment are “barbecued octopus.” 🙂
I love that you bring ancestors into the conversation. My experience learning with self-organizing groups is that they are/become close enough as a group to talk about those who came before them and recognize how much has been given to them by those who came before. May be family ancestors, community ancestors, work ancestors, etc. but when a group hits the point that they’re aware the group itself is something special to them, they expand their view to recognize that help is coming/has come from many directions.
Your story of Apocalypto causes me to reflect on a recent conversation Daniel and I had. We rent the top floor of our home to two renters and the cottage behind our home as well. We’ve noticed that as we occasionally interview people to live with us that we’re unconsciously (and now consciously) put off by people who lead with fear associated with our community (“I’ve heard this is a dangerous neighborhood”) and drawn to those who seem less likely to bring fear into our community (“I love this neighborhood!!”). Because we love our neighborhood. So beyond who it is we ourselves would like to live with, it seems important to honor the community–past, present, and future–each time we make our choice.
Am hoping this particular bit of wisdom stems from our self-organizing group, because we’re not connected to neighborhood elders at the moment, and I’d very much like to believe that we’re far too young to be elders ourselves! 😉 hee hee