The things that terrify me


I’ve had a phobia of trains since I was little. I grew up in a house near train tracks, and when the horn went off late at night, it scared me enough to wet the bed. But subways are worse – they’re underground (so no easy escape), there are no bathrooms, they can be filled with creepy people (I watch a lot of Law and Order), they make me claustrophobic.

Which brings me, naturally, to claustrophobia: I hate elevators, airplanes (actually, claustrophobia is the least of my issues with airplanes), being sandwiched in large crowds, being hugged tightly by strangers. Not having enough personal space reminds me of being trapped under the weight of a person who wouldn’t take “no” for an answer.

Which brings me to yet another fear: people who make sexist, racist, and other discriminatory jokes and comments, and don’t understand why they are hurtful. I fear the casualties of willful ignorance.

But the kinds of people who terrify me most are extremists of any kind: liberal, conservative, religious fundamentalist, anti-theist, whatever. In a way, I envy the certainty they have; their confidence that the world functions exactly the way they think it does, and anyone who doesn’t see it that way is stupid.

Granted, I can be that way too: I think it’s painfully obvious that women can be gifted with leadership and might just be better at it than some men. I think it’s painfully apparent that no one “asks” to get raped; that legalizing gay marriage is not the gateway to legalizing relationships with children, cats, or anyone/anything incapable of consenting. Among many other things.

Experiences have the power to shape us more than anything else – I firmly believe this. Some experiences can’t help but influence you: ask any solider, teacher, medical professional, or crime victim. And no amount of research and head knowledge can make you understand if you haven’t experienced it yourself – whatever “it” may be.

I know, because I used to judge women who stayed in abusive relationships until I became one of those women.

I know, because I thought all Christians had bigoted agendas until I became one.

I am terrified of people who are completely closed off to learning anything new; who are afraid of being challenged, and will never admit that it’s because their beliefs are too shallow to handle the slightest amount of dissention. So they lobby to pass laws that could force everyone to act their way – it’s easier than trying to understand the unfamiliar. I find it inconceivable that someone who thinks for themselves can be so intimidating to some people.

I am terrified of those whose certainty closes their minds so tightly that no amount of compassion or empathy can slip through.

I fear that once you lose that, you lose everything.


2 thoughts on “The things that terrify me

  1. How comforting it is to think only in black and white — it frees you from the burden of having to process new information. Just toe the party line because we’re right and everyone else is wrong, because we said so. And you’re obviously stupid if you don’t agree with us.

    That sort of thing is not the exclusive domain of wooden fundamentalists; people of all stripes are susceptible to it. The problem here is not liberal vs. conservative. The problem is intellectual maturity (or lack thereof). No matter who you are, no matter what you believe, there comes a time when your thinking has to come of age — which, in a nutshell, means respecting other viewpoints and respecting other people, respecting their intellectual experience and respecting their right to exist. Also being honest with new information. Also admitting you could be wrong. In short, it means taking responsibility for what you think, for what you believe. But people don’t want to do that. It’s so much easier to be “right” than to be honest.


  2. I agree. Extremists of any kind are seriously the scariest people around. It’s scary to think that people can view the world so black and white, not being open to the opinions and ideas of others.


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