feel free to disagree

I have what most would call a fear of heights. I prefer to call it a fear of falling from great heights, since, if I feel secure and not at risk of falling, I can stand in high places without much anxiety. But I wonder if maybe I’m not afraid of heights or falling at all.

For a long time now, believing that I have this fear, I have at times challenged myself to peer from great heights to places and things far below. For example, if I am in one of those kinds of elevators that have glass walls, I will watch the lower floors as they become more and more distant. If I happen to go to an observation deck or some other high-up balcony or vantage point of a very tall building, I will go right up to the railing and look out.

Just the other week, I was on the sixth floor of the carpark at work, and I stood by one of the outer walls to look through the cage to the park and the railway below. It was a mild day, late in the afternoon (or early in the evening), and I had no reason to think that the floor might suddenly give out, or that the wall would suddenly collapse, so I was quite at ease. Also, six floors is arguably not very high up.

If you want a better example, whenever I fly in planes, I always try to book a window seat so that I can gaze out the window as the plane takes off and lands. I also quite enjoy randomly looking out the window at various points during the flight. If my flight is homeward bound, I like trying to spot various landmarks as the plane circles and descends. If we fly over interesting landscapes, I watch with awe as mountains, forests, plains, rivers, and so forth pass beneath us. And how amazing it is to fly over snow-covered mountains!

And all the while, I do not feel afraid — either of being so high up or of falling from that height. Sure, it might cross my mind that it is a possibility, but that thought does not pre-occupy me for long because I feel secure where I am (which is amazing in itself because planes are essentially just sheets of metal with engines and stuff inside).

But I’m sure that being in any of these high-up places used to give me that nervous feeling in my gut — the feeling that says, “this is not safe; you shouldn’t be here”. However, now, this does not feel so severe. That’s how exposure therapy is supposed to work, right?

I try to apply this to other parts of my life too. I like to challenge myself.

You don’t want to do the thing? Why not? What’s stopping you? What are you afraid of? Why? Are you really that tired? Is this what you want? Maybe you want something else…

Sometimes I’m so good at arguing with myself, I get confused about what I actually believe.

You might think that all this makes me over-think everything and hence makes me quite indecisive, but I don’t think that’s the case. Ok, the over-thinking is probably true, but I actually got annoyed at my own indecisiveness a long time ago, and found ways to make myself more decisive. For example, I hardly ever look up restaurant menus before eating out, but have developed a skill for quickly choosing things when I’m there — entree, main, dessert and a drink with no hesitation.

(My indecision, I believe, came from a fear of being wrong, which I further believe came from being raised as a perfectionist, which was probably well-intentioned.)

Recently, I’ve come to realise that this sort of thought pattern has extended into conversations with other people. That is, I have developed a tendency to play devil’s advocate and challenge the things that other people posit. I think some people might get a bit annoyed at this, but I think it’s only because I challenge my own thoughts so much that my brain is kind of wired to think that way. I do try to step back if I think it’s going to get too heated. My goal is not to argue, but to encourage people to think about their thinking.

Speaking of encouraging, I’ve also been known to be an enabler, and will often encourage people to do things that not many other people would encourage them to do. I consider myself to be a supportive friend — I want my friends to do the things they want to do, to do what makes them happy, and to reach their full potential. I’d like to say I’m an enabler within reason. Recklessness is not my thing (usually).

Perhaps it just depends on whether I think it’s a remotely good idea, or a good idea. Of course, if it is a remotely good idea, I’ll think of ways to advocate for it, since the person probably already has enough doubts. Similarly, good ideas usually already have plenty of supporters, so I’ll try to balance it out with challenging questions. Constructive feedback is key.

2 thoughts on “feel free to disagree

  1. I’m with you on the heights thing. I remember from a psychology class that babies were naturally afraid of two things: heights and snakes. (Smart babies.) I also play devil’s advocate a lot – I think it’s because I really listen to what people are saying. I could use some tips on being more decisive! I mentally *waffle* around tooooo much.

    • Haha smart babies, indeed!

      I think, for me, being decisive came down to trying to make decisions quickly and then committing to it / not second guessing my choices. Sometimes if I’m really stuck, I consider which option I’d (probably) regret least.

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