October 18

The Triumph Over Fear

October 18, 2011

Stress Management

A commercial airline pilot called me to say that he'd broken up with his wife, his children were a mess, and he was miserable beyond words. The stress was killing him, and he was making mistakes on the job that were endangering his employment.

"I don't think I can fly anymore," he said. "I just don't have it."

So I told him the story of Dumbo the Elephant—a classic tale known to regrettably few these days—as follows:

A baby elephant is born in the circus, but the other elephants laugh at him because of his unusually large ears and give him the nickname "Dumbo." Feeling like an outcast, his spirits are lifted by the friendship of a small mouse, Timothy.

Dumbo proves too clumsy to contribute to the elephant acts in the circus, so the boss assigns him to be clown, falling from a platform into a vat of pie filling. After getting drunk one night—that's a story for another day—Dumbo and Timothy wake up the next morning high in a tree. Timothy concludes that Dumbo must have used his big ears to fly there, but Dumbo doesn't believe it and refuses to jump from his leafy perch.

Timothy finds a feather and convinces Dumbo that it's magic and will give him the ability to fly. With the magic feather, Dumbo flies to the ground and returns to the circus, where he discovers that he has been assigned to jump from a much higher platform. Terrified, he jumps but loses his feather on the way down. As he falls, however, Timothy tells him that the feather was never magical, and that Dumbo had his own ability to fly. Dumbo pulls out of his dive, flies around the audience, and is hailed as a hero and star.

"Dumbo could fly," I said to the pilot. "He proved that by flying up into the tree. But once he was there, he couldn't fly anymore, and only one thing prevented that: his fear. Fear distorts our thinking, alters our perceptions, and twists our behavior. You've already proven you can fly. There's no doubt about it, but you've recently been severely handicapped by fear—not primarily of flying, but of being a less worthwhile person as a result of all the unloving experiences you have endured from early childhood to the present."

The pilot learned to tell the truth about himself, and he found the love he needed. His fears began to evaporate, and he's now flying—literally and figuratively.

Fear is crippling. As long as we're afraid—until we address the root cause of all fears—we cannot make full use of our abilities.

PCSD

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