Unbalanced: Fear factor

Author: Carol Schaal '91M.A.

Carol Schaal

My walking partner is deathly afraid of dogs. Even the cutest little pooch sends her into fear mode. So if we are out doing our walking-for-exercise bit and a dog is anywhere nearby, she’ll position herself so I am between her and the threat.

What, I wonder, does this say about what she thinks of me? Better that I be attacked than her? It reminds me of that joke about the camping pair who are surprised by a bear. One person immediately puts on running shoes, and the other says, “You can’t outrun a bear.” The runner says, “I know. I only have to outrun you.”

But I know that’s not what she’s thinking. She’s thinking that the dog knows she’s afraid of it, and because of this the dog will happily attack her while leaving me alone.

In her mind, if I’m between her and the mangy killing machine, then my critters-are-so-cute thoughts will get there first, and those positive vibes will cover her get-away-from-me-you-slimy-evil-beast thoughts. The dog will trot happily by, buoyed by the waves of love and acceptance it feels from me and not startled into a murderous rage by the venom and fear it feels from her.

Ah, if only such a magic shield would work. Because if it did, we could appoint certain people to always be present when two sworn enemies meet. For instance, the Dalai Lama would be a permanent member of any peace accord talks between Israelis and Palestinians.

And on a lesser note than world peace, a soothing person such as Dr. Oz could stand between Charlie Sheen and whoever his current objet-de-rage happens to be. Or a sweetheart like Anne Hathaway could be posted on the sidelines of certain football games — a recent Auburn and Georgia one comes to mind — and help deflect the anger between a bunch of big brutes.

So when we walk, that’s how my friend’s fear-reducing magical thinking works. My way is a bit different. I simply pray that those dogs my walking partner is so afraid of are all nonviolent, lovable mutts. Because if they’re not, I know for a fact that she can outrun me.

Carol Schaal is managing editor of Notre Dame Magazine. Email her at schaal.2@nd.edu.