I got to hear a really fascinating TED talk about fear the other day. The speaker went over the difference between the things we fear versus the things that are actually dangerous.
A recent example could be the fears about Ebola in the United States compared to the fear of the common flu. Every year the flue kills thousands around the world (1)whereas Ebola infected two people in the states and both survived (2). Rationally, the flu should be far scarier than Ebola but fear isn’t a rational thing.
The speaker for the event used a fantastic example of what fear can do to us. The crew of the Essex, a whaling ship, was struck by a whale (inspiring Moby Dick) and sank in 1820. The crew managed to escape the ship on the smaller whaling boats and faced a big decision; they could either make for the Marquesas islands (closer) or make for South America (far, far away). The crew was so afraid that the islands were inhabited by cannibals that they tried for South America despite knowing they didn’t have the food or water to make the trip. A captivating, unrealistic fear versus a very realistic, practical fear. Most of the crew died of starvation and dehydration before being rescued by another ship 95 days later.
To me, this TED talk is interesting on multiple levels. It affects how I see things on a daily basis, helps evaluate what is a “real” fear versus an unrealistic fear. As a writer, it interests me because we live in the world of unrealistic fears. A book about the flu killing .05% of the world’s population, or dying in a car crash, wouldn’t make for a very interesting read. Our imagination is what fuels our stories, as well as our daily fears, so it’s a fascinating subject.
You should check out the talk if you get a chance: