Conditioned to Fear

Conditioned to fear

Was I conditioned to fear the unknown?

Are we as a society conditioned to fear the unknown?

I’m roughly a third of the way through my journey on this green rock we call Earth, and I find myself reflecting on my current circumstances and the decisions that lead me here. Today’s reflection: Was I conditioned to fear and be distrustful of outsiders? Even more, have I had an overactive sense of tribalism my entire life?

Being conditioned to fear isn’t all that difficult.

When I think back on what I heard and was taught growing up, I realize that there was always some proverbial boogeyman hiding aground the corner. This boogeyman could be waiting for me to leave the safety of my home, my school, my community, my state, and even my country. He was nowhere and everywhere at the same time.

He could be the Mexican selling fruit by the expressway off-ramp, a stranger in the street, or he could even be one of my closest friends and/or family. How devious could this boogeyman be?

As a child, I told my parents that I wanted to travel and live in another country. To this day, I still don’t know the impetus behind my rationale. I only know that this is something I’ve desired from day one.

The crazy thing is that even though I wanted to leave, I didn’t develop the drive or will to do so until well into my adult life. I grew up as a living, breathing contradiction. What held me back for so long?

Let’s Be Honest

If I’m gonna keep it really real?

If I’m gonna keep it 100?

I believe it was a combination of social conditioning and race – intended or not. If you think about it, it’s possible. I watched a ton of television growing up, and I always watched the news. What do you see on the news?

The news is a sanctioned, sensationalized marathon of death, disease, and heartbreak, and it conditions us to fear the unknown. All you hear about are the terrible things happening in the world. Sure, maybe there’s a 2-minute good-news segment crammed between double-homicide and corruption stories, but good-news, aka hope, is usually nonexistent in the news.

I was taught that I had the privilege of living in “the greatest country on earth,” and there was no point in leaving. The only thing waiting for me outside of America’s borders was a rude awakening.

Now don’t get me wrong, I’m proud of where I’m from. When asked, I always answer without hesitation, New York. I simply wonder if I was done a disservice by not being encouraged to travel the world.

Since I’ve been abroad, I’ve met tons of Erasmus students who are spending a year living and learning in other countries. I had no idea something like that even existed. You mean to tell me there was a program out here that was encouraging people to travel and experience other cultures. Better yet, there are tons of these programs.

Why didn’t this information make it to the hood? For me, international travel was always presented as something that was reserved for the elites of our society. On television, I don’t remember seeing any shows about students globetrotting and experiencing life abroad. I only remember shows about kids trying to survive in the ghetto.

Usually, when I meet younger travelers who have a ton of countries and cool stories under their belts, I go through 3 stages of grief:

  • Jealousy: this person has been doing this forever and a day, but I didn’t find out about it. Why?!
  • Pride: this person is out here living his/her best life, and I’m all for it. Hopefully, they’ll spread the word and never stop.
  • Acceptance: I arrived late to the party, but that’s okay. I’m going to do the most I can while I still can!

What Was I Thinking?

Sometimes, I think about what I was doing in my 20’s, and I can’t help but feel like I wasted precious time. Sure, I had fun, but I could’ve done so much more. I could’ve been fulfilling my goals and chasing my dreams in different corners of the world. I could’ve been crafting everlasting memories that would’ve guaranteed me victory in every game of Never Have I Ever (but the more fun, adult version) for the rest of my life.

Well, that’s just the way life goes. You live, and you learn. For that reason, I’m more determined to live life to the fullest these days. I try to take advantage of every opportunity that comes my way.

Traveling has opened my mind in ways I never thought possible. Sometimes, you don’t realize your personal prejudices until you are knee-deep in a situation that forces you to confront and address them. Thailand did that for me.

I had so many preconceived notions about how I’d be treated, how I had imagined the people to be, the food, and the living conditions. In short, Thailand was nothing like I expected. It was better.

On my first night living in my new apartment, my neighbors invited me over for drinks. We spent the entire night communicating through hand signals while laughing, taking pictures, and tossing back drinks, and I loved every minute of it. Google translate was a lifesaver that night. They taught me some Thai, and I taught them some English. It was great!

Thai Motorbike
I miss my Thai motorbike every day

How About That…

The greatest lesson I learned in Thailand was that there’s nothing like the first-hand experience of visiting/living in a given place. People will often surprise you if you give them a chance.

Spain taught me to abandon expectations when heading into a new experience. Reality seldom lives up to the expectations fabricated in the mind, so you’ll usually let yourself down. Spain taught me to embrace the unknown with fresh eyes and from an untainted perspective.

Since I was a child, I had a fascination with Spanish culture. I always wanted to go to Spain and walk the cobblestone streets. I wanted to eat at the cafes and partake in all of the celebrations and festivities. When I learned that I’d be going to Spain, I was so excited that I couldn’t contain myself. It would be perfect! I knew just what to expect, so I had no worries. I couldn’t have been more wrong.

When I got to Spain, I quickly realized I had a romanticized version of what I thought Spain would and should be in my brain for years on end. Spain wasn’t anything close to how I had envisioned it. I had been fantasizing about Mexico and other Latin American countries. I thought I’d get here and see mariachi bands, enjoy spicy dishes, and a host of other things. Spain had none of it!

Over time, I learned to stop focusing on what Spain didn’t have and to embrace what it does have to offer. That ranks right up there with the best decisions I’ve ever made. Finding happiness in Spain would’ve been an impossibility had I not learned to let go of my preconceived notions.

I’ve learned a lot of valuable life lessons in the few years I’ve been traveling. My only regret is that I didn’t start this journey earlier in life. Nevertheless, I’m grateful that I escaped the rat-race and have gained some of the freedom that I always sought.

Maybe I was conditioned to fear, and maybe I did waste a lot of time, but that doesn’t have to define who I am or what I do from this point forward.

There’s no such thing as making up for lost time, but you can make sure that you don’t make the same mistake twice.


A Jaded ’80s Baby