“WAG #110: Scaredy-Cat” Another people-watching exercise! Choose a stranger and observe him/her for a little while. Now give them a phobia. A full-on, jump on the chair, scream like a little girl, unreasonable fear. (Or however you imagine them to respond.) Try to choose something that fits the person you’re watching, and let us know what it is about them that clued you in to their secret fear. The object is not just to describe the fear, but to make us understand why it fits with this particular person.
The term "neurosis" flashed brightly across the night sky of the American culture in the late '50s and into the '60s; a comet whose tail illuminated every ilk of ill that could possibly befall the stressed out suburbanite reeling from "keeping-up-with-the-Joneses" syndrome. As a word, it seems to relate to the nervous system, but as a concept it encapsulates all the traits that triggered the emergence of the "hip" generation, now known as "hippies." Among the grocery list of ailments that this word captures is the term "phobia," which means "fears." But these are not just any old fears; nope, they are very special and coddled fears; indeed, they are fears that, in many cases, arose within us between the ages of 5 and 7 and we have carried them secretly since then. According to their discoverer, our reluctance to face a certain natural fact causes us to displace that reluctance onto something else; this "something else" is termed the phobic object. If we encounter that object in our day-to-day routines, we fear it in a kind of irrational way; not because it actually poses an immense physical threat to us but, owing to the leverage it has, having been so deeply seated in our consciousness, it casts a much larger shadow than should be warranted by its physical presence. This brief background should help us with the following.
About two days earlier from May 11, 2009 a sports reporter was giving her live report after a hockey game when she suddenly screamed and jumped off camera. She continued jumping around and screaming "Oh, my God, it's a rat; Oh my God, it's a rat; Oh my God, Oh my God." She was visibly agitated despite the fact that it was live TV (I caught the replay the next day). There had been a rat running across the ice right at her feet and had caught her completely unawares; however, the great lengths to which she went to protest its presence betray the fact that something other than a surprise was afoot. Now, to be sure, the presence of a rat on ice is, in itself, somewhat surprising; maybe it was an Eskirat just out trying to find food to take back to its ratgloo or even just out for a leisurely skate; there was no word as to whether the rat was dressed in hockey colors, had a stick, or even a whistle (on the off-chance that it was a referrat).
These telltale signs identify this situation as one involving a phobia: 1) it is very unlikely that the rat could have wrestled the reporter to the ice or even checked her against the wall; 2) none of her protestations actually described any danger because the fear loomed so large in her own mind that she assumed that the danger was clear, present, and obvious to the others standing around (the cameraman, the sound crew, etc.); 3) the appeal to deity was a stark admission of helplessness and also a confession of a self-created, but denied, danger. We always fear that which we, ourselves, have created but whose existence we deny because it is our denial that gives it a power we cannot vanquish.
In our unrefined psyche, we are, mostly, a ganglion of fears; some rising to the level of neuroses, others just nuisances. The reporter I used as my subject seemingly evinced an irrational fear of rats on ice but it could have been spiders or the number 13 (triskaidekaphobia). What is important is not that we have fear nor even what it is that we are afraid of; what is really important is that the presence of fear is a barometer of the level of self-denial in which we engage. The struggle required to get to the center of consciousness where there is no self-denial is rigorous and strenuous; but well worth the trip. I don't want to give away the surprise by telling you what you'll find there, but as a clue let me just say the "I" you find will not be in the third person.