What scares us and why it's not all bad


Fear casts a long shadow on our lives, and as we begin a new year, we thought it appropriate to reflect on the topic — shining a light on the dark corners of our minds and, in doing so, hopefully rendering them slightly less scary. To help us explore the concept of fear, we asked dozens of local figures to choose one of three writing prompts: 1. What scares me. 2. What I used to be afraid of. 3. The role fear plays in my life or in our world. Their answers are surprising and, in a few cases, downright terrifying.

Inlander editor

What I Used to be Afraid Of

I remembered my fear of heights as soon as I stared over the gangplank into the chasm. A crowd of spectators began chanting, “Jump, jump, jump . . .” The voice inside my head asked, “How do I get down from here without losing face?” No answer came and I stood frozen on the edge of the Nanaimo Bridge — a suddenly reluctant Bungee Jumper.

The voice of logic said, “According to the website, 10,000 people have bungeed off this bridge without dying.” The reptilian part of my brain said, “You will die if you jump — don’t do it!” My legs began to shake, I turned pale. I was trapped between the terror of jumping and the fear of publicly giving up. My paralysis stretched into what seemed like minutes, but I finally chose between what felt like certain death and the admission of weakness.

I dove head first towards the river, 150 feet below. My stomach clenched and a sob wracked my body. The last voice inside my head said, “Really? You are going to kill yourself instead of people thinking you are a quitter?”

Just before my head hit, the rope around my legs tightened and flung me back up towards the bridge. Like a giant rubber band, it bounced me up and down until I quietly dangled upside down a few feet from the water. While I waited to be unhooked, I realized that my greatest fear wasn’t really heights — it was showing that fear.


Local civil rights attorney, who represented Otto Zehm’s family

What I Used to be Afraid Of

Don’t we all struggle with fear? Fear of failure or success, fear of death, divorce, the dark, fear of heights or maybe snakes, fear of the unknown, fear of rejection, fear of disappointment, the list goes on and on.

While growing up my biggest fear was that of divorce. I was afraid that if my mom, or anyone else, found out that my dad was sexually abusing me, our family would fall apart. That fear, fear of the unknown, was so strong that I couldn’t speak up and so the abuse continued. Allowing fear to hold me captive only made my situation worse.

I learned that God had a better plan for me. Jeremiah 29:11 says, “For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.” Fear polarizes; faith, through trusting God, produces courage to help us face our fears and overcome them. Deuteronomy 31:6 tells me to, “Be strong and of good courage, do not fear nor be afraid of them; for the LORD your God, He is the One who goes with you. He will not leave you nor forsake you.”

He is teaching me to be strong and courageous! I’m learning to allow heavenly truth to triumph over earthly fears and believe that “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me,” Philippians 4:13. Godly courage destroys fear! May you find courage in 2013.

Spokane City Councilwoman

What Scares Me

What scares me is how often we don’t know what to do in relationships. When I got married I knew I’d married a marvelous person, a woman of deep intellect and fierce soul, a musician, a person who is a fire in the dark of this world. Then I proceeded to have no real clue how to relate in ways that would consistently be meaningful to her. My own selfishness and defensiveness emerged. My lack of will to change things that needed to be changed, like aforementioned over-self-focus and fortified heart, just about crushed us. I was afraid then about how difficult it is to change in order to be more present, generous, and capable of the self-sacrifice needed for love. I’m afraid for all of us because it seems ever more apparent to me how necessary it is to pass through that crucible of fear and emerge into the powerful and enduring love that exists on the other side. I hope our courage is enough to overcome our fear, for my sake, for love’s sake, and for the sake of my three daughters.


Author of American Masculine

Professor of Leadership Studies, Gonzaga University

What Scares Me

Fear is a deep motivator for me in my life. My career has been dedicated to being the voice for those unheard due to poverty. I have worked tirelessly with others to empower people who lack resources and to bridge them with others willing to share theirs.

What I have learned is that people are all much more alike than different. Some of us have had many more opportunities than others. Some of us are healthier in mind, body and spirit. Some of us have more confidence and courage to reach our potential. Some have more sense, more grace, more humility.

I fear deeply for growing division between the wealthy and the poor in our country. This deep divide results in chaos. I also fear that a major lack of understanding each other is resulting in apathy. I also fear that those living in poverty are misunderstood. I fear that the lack of knowing the truth about poverty leads people in powerful positions to be misguided with precious resources.

And last, I fear that those with the means to give to others rob themselves of one of the greatest gift we have on Earth — to care for others in their time of need which results in a deep sense of personal gratitude.


CEO, Habitat for Humanity-Spokane

The Role of Fear in Our World

My relationship with fear is rocky and unsteady. I have the usual commonplace fears like suffering physical pain or death from falling from heights or stepping on a scorpion when in Arizona. With these types of fears I have noticeable physiological response: pounding heartbeat, sweating, feeling jittery. Deeper fears seem to originate from the general idea that something in life is going to hurt in a serious way and cause significant psychological distress, like loss of a loved one or suddenly losing a job. Fear can serve a useful purpose by having us apply appropriate caution. But the following quotation serves as a useful guide: “The more time you spend being afraid, the more you’re deprived of a fulfilling life.”


Health Officer, Spokane Regional Health District

The Role of Fear in My Life

Exposed skin. I step onto the stage and reveal to the audience myself. Here is my expression, my art. If it didn’t scare me, it would be easy and it wouldn’t be worth it. The pieces I choose to do are about me and my life. They are more than just the “razzle dazzle” of the glitter and lights. My acts are about my struggles to face my fears and overcome them. To show the love I have for myself and share myself with an intimate crowd of about 300 people. I would not have it any other way. I face my fears so others can follow in my footsteps and feel as free to love and express themselves. Each step I take as the owner/director of Pasties & Paddles and as a performance artist has an element of fear. Yet in facing risk and doubt and then overcoming it, I get that much stronger. So just remember when you walk onto the stage of life, you have the power to choose how you handle yourself. The real question will be: Will you let fear control you or will you face it and make something beautiful?


Burlesque performer, Pasties & Paddles

What Scares Me

My parents did right in raising me — they told me not to take candy from strangers and not to ride my bike without a helmet. But one mistake they thought they made in parenting resulted in one of the most dominant, yet rational fears I developed in my younger years: that humans can be more frightening than apparitions or monsters. When I watched The Godfather for the first time at a notably young age, when I first laid eyes on Don Corleone, fat-lipped and sinister, I came to this important realization. Since witnessing the corruption and mercilessness in that particular film, I couldn’t help but start to look twice at men in pinstripe suits and to look over my shoulder when walking alone at night. Spokane is not exactly a Mecca for organized crime, and an innocent girl like me is not exactly the type to do wrong by the mob, but the possibility of irrational human thought causing vengeful, bloody crime scares me nonetheless. My perspective on the world changed to encompass this newfangled fear of my own species, one that still haunts me from the film reels of the nightly news.


A senior at Spokane’s Lewis & Clark High School

The Role of Fear in Our World

Over the past week I have watched our nation as it struggles to make sense of a senseless act. Many have talked of their fears. Fear for the safety of our nation, our communities, our schools and our children. Listening, I began to realize that for the better part of my life fear has been a constant companion.

I recalled the fear in the eyes of a grandfather when he looked up at me as he was performing CPR on his infant grandson, and his words, “Please help me.” The fear I felt that day flashed back as I remembered performing CPR on a child whose soul I knew had already left this world.

I’ve seen the fear in the eyes of crime victims, in the eyes of a little girl who pulled on my pant leg and told me, “Daddy beat up Mommy.”

A thought of fear’s icy grip while facing down a domestic violence suspect armed with a gun, and a five-minute conversation that seemed like an hour:

“Put the gun down.”


“If that barrel moves, I’m going to have to shoot you.”

“You won’t shoot me.”

“Dying is only one outcome of being shot, being paralyzed is the other.”

The relief of seeing the gun hit the floor.

Fear is our companion in life. It reminds us of life’s risks. It helps us make our decisions. Decisions made in fear make bad politics, bad politics make bad policy.

Without fear there is no courage. To truly live is to face life’s fears, and to have the courage not to allow it to destroy our hopes, our dreams or our spirit. My hope for our nation is that we will not live in fear’s cold shadow, but that we will choose to live in the eternal hope of courage’s warm light.


Spokane County Sheriff

What Scares Me

OK, I admit I am afraid of something: the future, if there is one, ha. I wake up too many nights, 2ish to 3ish am (right during my REM sleep mind you) and contemplate not only my future but my sons’ futures. What will their education look like? What will their jobs look like? What will they look like? Will they respect their teachers, parents and elders? Will people like them? Will they like people? How do I instill good old-fashion courtesy, kindness, consideration, passion and the intrinsic motivation to truly become successful patrons and make a positive difference in our society?

So, looking at these questions as an educator, I fear parents who fear to parent! I see our youngsters feeling they are owed something for nothing due to parents befriending their kids rather than parenting their kids. This freaks me out! I fear being a parent, and I admit wholeheartedly I don’t have all the answers. However, I truly feel we need to stop enabling our kids, lay some law and hold the whippersnappers accountable. Can I get an Amen?


Principal, Timberlake Junior High, Spirit Lake, Idaho

The Role of Fear in My Life

I am a skydiver. I am also the daughter, sister, wife, and friend of many other skydivers. Fear is a word that is used constantly when we are asked questions about our sport, and surprisingly not often used when we describe our sport to others. Although we fear accidents and injury, our sport is more about overcoming fear. Skydiving is full of people who seek to feel freedom and live life so fully that even jumping out of perfectly good planes is part of the picture and it is overcoming fear that has opened so many doors in my life. Without stepping past fear and out the door of an airplane flying at 12,000 feet above the earth, I might never have learned how full life and love can be when you step outside a box of boundaries created by fear.


Daughter of Rex Menke, Owner of West Plains Skydiving

What I Used to be Afraid of

When I was a kid we lived for a while on a cattle ranch. We were warned to stay away from an old well in the woods, which was covered with plywood. I somehow became convinced that Satan lived in the well. For some reason, I used to get a running start and leap over the plywood, believing that as long as I could clear the hole, Satan would remain down there. Thankfully, it was an easy jump. But one time, I slipped on some wet leaves and went sprawling onto the plywood, which slid off the well, one of my legs dangling for a moment over that dank black hole. I can still feel the hand that rose out of the darkness to close around my ankle ... just before I scurried to my feet and ran screaming into the woods.


Author of Beautiful Ruins

What Scares Me

It’s gone on too long — my fear of what other people think of me has become so intrinsic that it morphed into a deep fear of vulnerability. I often care far too much about offending people, worrying if I’m cool enough for them, or asking myself if they are judging me. The reality, of course, is that people think of me so rarely, and when they do, they’re likely not as critical as I think (unless they genuinely don’t like me which is fine, too).

My fear of vulnerability has ultimately led to a wake of broken relationships stemmed from my inability to ask for what I wanted from my partner out of fear of judgment or disappointing them. It’s also led to sub-par writing out of fear of criticism from people who don’t really matter to me. This common fear is one rooted in self-protection that ultimately leads to self-destruction.

All I can do from here is force myself into complete honesty with others and myself all the time (which is actually impossible, but a girl can dream). People are always going to judge me, but that changes absolutely nothing about me. People that waste their time worrying about what other people think aren’t the ones who change the world.


Local blogger

What Scares Me

Working on environmental issues is inherently fearful. If you don’t think so, consider the saying “ignorance is bliss.” I can’t tell you how many times I’ve said to myself, “If I only knew less or didn’t spend time fretting over Issue X, Y or Z.” Oftentimes the issues, be in water pollution, global warming or others, are very complex and very layered, so the question that is often asked by people trying to read the issue is, “What keeps you up at night?”

I love this question because it provides an opportunity to get the topic out of the weeds and get to the heart of the issue. But I also love it because it’s so real and raw. “What keeps you up at night?”

Well, for one, I’m afraid that as a society we are wasteful and won’t fully understand the extent of this waste until it’s too late. I’m afraid that my children and other future generations won’t be able to enjoy the great outdoors like I did as a child. And I’m afraid that all that I’m doing might not matter in the end. That’s what keeps me up at night. Fear is the realist emotion. It grounds me, it motivates me, and I can’t imagine working as an environmentalist without fear.


Spokane Riverkeeper

The Role of Fear in Our World

In 1989, I was hired as the first outreach worker for the HIV/AIDS Program at Spokane Regional Health District. Part of my job was to do street outreach, which included bars, alleys and flophouses in the West First area. At that time the 1100 block of West First was a hotbed of drugs, prostitution and crime.

I wasn’t really afraid during the first year and a half, but then a man tried to choke me while I was walking on an icy sidewalk. Two gang members stepped out of a hotel entrance and told the would-be strangler to let me go… he did. I thanked the men and they said you are welcome.

I had been dreading the arrival of gangs in our community and was surprised to find I had been saved by a couple of Crips from Compton, Calif. A local police officer scoffed at my surprise: Sgt. Mike Yates told me they arrived with keys to some of the buildings; of course they know who’s who in the community.

Over the next few years, the folks most people in Spokane avoided were the people who watched my back, carried my boxes and generally made my life safer. I knew they committed crimes, including assaults and shootings, but I also knew them as human beings with hopes and dreams and care and concern.


Needle Exchange Coordinator
Spokane Regional Health District AIDS Program

What Scares Me

What scares me the most is being an ineffective leader, a fear I’ve faced many times. I started my career at Boeing and became a manager at a fairly young age. After only a few months, members of my group started leaving for other jobs, mainly because of my ineffectiveness.

Thankfully, in the early 1990s, Boeing got heavily involved in Lean, a continuous process improvement methodology. It required a completely different leadership style — one that empowered staff to continuously improve their workplace by systematically eliminating unnecessary or wasteful activities. I was hooked and learned everything I could about this leadership style. As my organizations performed better and better on the B-2 Bomber and F-22 Raptor programs, my fear was subsiding.

I returned to Spokane in 2006 to run a start-up company in Idaho. Utilizing all I learned at Boeing, we created a couple very efficient manufacturing facilities. We had early successes, growing the company to over 100 employees. Life was good, yet over the next couple years I failed as their leader to sustain these gains. The resulting layoffs devastated me and again I faced my fear.

Now I lead WorkSource Spokane, our region’s one-stop employment center. Over the past couple years, using Lean methodologies, this wonderful organization’s staff has completely transformed its service delivery model to one that consistently provides very high quality services to our 60,000+ customers annually – with no customer waiting.

While my fear is again subsiding, it still drives me to be a better leader.


Spokane Area Director, Employment Security Department

What Scares Me

I fear: snakes in trees; snakes on planes (hah!); the pervasive and insidious influence of huge money that puts “snakes” into positions of power over people; and weapons of mass destruction.

As a calculated-risk-taker, I don’t allow fear to be a limiting factor in my personal or professional life. I plunged into public service when I decided something must be done to limit the proliferation of nuclear weapons. My fear of Mutual Assured Destruction propelled me into action on that issue, and left me with the enduring belief that society’s looming catastrophes can be averted by an informed citizenry, sustained civic dialogue, and strong, intelligent diplomats in key positions.

Other than that, I find most mall Santas to be a bit scary … .


Former Spokane Mayor

The Role of Fear in My Life

I fear that my business will fail. I fear that a family member will fall ill. I fear great friendships will diminish. I fear I will forget. I fear progression will come to a halt.

Because of these fears motivation is in abundance. Family, friends, health, and business are the most important substances in life and to lose, forget or neglect any of them is a failure. I use fear as a motivator to deviate from failure by working hard, listening to friends, providing healthy food for the family and always remembering to support those who support you. I am a small business owner and they say, “Don’t hire friends and family,” but I say, “Hire those who will care enough to excrete your passion and love to the guests.” To lose a friendship for the satisfaction of the guest is a shame, but these are the details that swirl behind the scenes of a small business. It’s all about balance, so this is my greatest fear. So to those who have worked for me in the past and present, your dedication and hard work is and always will be greatly appreciated. The love is maybe lost sometimes, but it is not forgotten. Your loss of friendship is my fear and if it is lost, then that’s my failure. I love you all and wish only the best for each and every one of you.


Chef and owner of Sante

What I Used to be Afraid of

I grew up outside of Newark, New Jersey, and being the granddaughter of Italian immigrants, learned quickly to never back down in the face of a bully and to stand up for myself, my family, and my friends. My family communicated like other typical Italian families; whoever yelled the loudest won the argument.

Despite that, much of my adult life I was afflicted with a fear of public speaking. The thought of speaking in front of a group filled me with such trepidation that I dropped any class that required me to take the podium, and I agonized over whether to feign illness if required to speak anywhere else for any reason.

Despite that, I chose law as my career. Early in my legal career, I was in court virtually every day as a public defender. It was there that I found my voice. If I couldn’t speak on behalf of my clients, who would? Over time, I’ve been called upon to speak in public many times. I still feel the butterflies.


Spokane County Superior Court Judge

The Role of Fear in Our World

Fear is a societal disease. Its symptoms are: oppression, suppression, repression, and depression. Fear is fueled by ignorance and has catalyzed some of the most tragic events in human history.

Fear of others, terror of the unknown, and panic about losing life or possessions drive people to kill, abuse, and oppress others. Fear piloted the genocide of Natives in North America. Fear was a tool of oppression during slavery. Fear is both cause and effect in domestic violence and domestic terrorism. Fear has been used as a tool by governments to frighten citizens about impending foreign threats and rally soldiers to the cause of nationalism.

Fear of hell is used by religion to suppress individual feelings and desires; these repressed feelings then often express themselves in negative or destructive ways later. Fear-saturated media leads to depression on a massive scale; constantly showing what is going wrong in the world can make us lose hope.

In North Idaho, fear of others feeds racism and is set in motion by ignorance. Ignorance about the universality of the human experience, ignorance about how similar all people are genetically, ignorance about identity, ignorance about our common values and behaviors.

In Black Studies courses, we use F.E.A.R. as an acronym for False Evidence Appearing Real. Education is one of the best vaccinations against the disease of fear; we can teach truth and raise awareness in the world to eliminate fear, along with its oppressive, suppressive, repressive, and depressive symptoms.


Instructor, North Idaho College

The Role of Fear in Our World

While the United States has become far more civil, just, fair, and verdant, I fear that our deepening local and national political divide will thwart progress towards achieving truly equal human rights and towards the dream of providing universal health care for all Americans, especially for the poor and vulnerable. Health care for all is something every other major country in the world has achieved, but we have not. Cuba’s infant mortality rate is dramatically superior to our own, indicating that something is very wrong in the United States. While those who have been blessed with great material abundance have life far better than ever, far more of our citizens than ever are struggling, and far too many can barely survive.

When the right-wing Supreme Court elected George Bush president in 2000 by a vote of 5 to 4, I feared we were seeing the end of representative government and our will to care. When that Supreme Court (similarly composed) voted to allow unlimited spending on political campaigns, I feared that billions of dollars from propagandists would completely overwhelm all good judgment of the people and would take total control of the political system.

We just saw an election where billions of dollars fed vicious misrepresentations, fear, lies, and distortions to an extent never seen in history, anywhere in the world. Sheldon Adelson alone contributed more than $150 million to his causes, but thankfully he “won” 0 for 8. Karl Rove raised more than $1 billion and lost dramatically more political races and issues than he won. Reactionaries lost in their vows to defeat President Obama and the progressive Democrats. They lost in their promises to end the progressive agenda. They lost eight, possibly nine seats in Congress. They lost three seats in the Senate. The Democrats, now decidedly more liberal, actually won more total votes for Congress nationally than the Republicans, yet the Republicans control the House by 232 to 203! How can that be?

Gerrymandering is how. Probably the most celebrated and egregious gerrymandered district in the country is North Carolina’s Interstate 85 district, which is an extremely long, narrow boundary bordering low-cost housing near the Interstate. The Democratic congressman representing that district won with 79 percent while districts surrounding his were won by Republicans only by 51 percent, 53 percent, 55 percent, 57 percent, etc. Gerrymandering is an outrageous and reprehensible manipulation of our political system, regrettably just another manifestation of highly-organized fear-mongers and hate-mongers. People adamantly opposed to human rights have cleverly and diligently manipulated the system, and in this case, they have seized control unfairly and unjustly.

I fear that the Supreme Court will allow this travesty to continue. I fear that the future portends more highly organized, engineered control and less equality of care. There is hope, however, because national polls consistently show that Americans who are under age 30 overwhelmingly favor a far more peaceful, civil, just, fair and verdant future. So, in years to come, as we are ruled, controlled, and engineered less and less by angry, old, white men, there is hope for finally realizing the dreams of truly equal human rights and health care for all.


Developer, Wells And Company

The Role of Fear in Our World

The human struggle with fear was eloquently distilled in Albert Brooks’ comedy, Defending Your Life. In the film, the protagonist Daniel Miller (played by Brooks) is forced to stand trial in the afterlife for allowing fear to control his life on Earth.

For most of us, it takes a good part of adulthood to realize that all of our decisions in life are fear-based. We enter this life possessing no trepidation for what we encounter, only to acquire the fear that will ultimately guide our adult interactions with the world around us — fear of failure, fear of rejection, fear of not meeting the expectations of others. Moving past fear means accepting ourselves, knowing that outcomes themselves do little to define our worth or create our happiness. The value of adversity is the self-knowledge that emerges from the trial and the experience.

Like many, I spent a good part of my life making fear-based decisions to meet the expectations of those around me. Today I try to consciously make choices based on my expectations of myself. I don’t always get it right, but it feels much better. It’s a lesson each of us, like Daniel Miller, must learn in our own way.


Former Washington State Senator, 6th District