On Fear (Or Why You Should Keep Singing)

Everything you’ve ever wanted is on the other side of fear. – George Addair

My son has always loved to sing.

One of our first videos is of him wiggling and singing to the tunes from a toy when he was 5 months old. He’s the first grandchild in our family, so suffice it to say, the video was practically viewed by the entire state of Texas by the time my mother was finished with it.

Pretty much our favorite activity from the time my son was a toddler has been to drive in the car, playing the “tunes” (as he calls them), and singing at the top of our lungs.

Since then, he has happily belted out in song pretty much whenever he gets a chance.

He’s always been an early riser, but I had to draw the line when he started regularly singing in his bed when he awoke at 4am. We made it a rule that he wasn’t allowed to sing until 6am.

I know – talk about strict parenting.

The thing is, he never sings “songs” per se. As in, he doesn’t really sing recognizable kids’ tunes, or nursery rhymes, that sort of thing. Usually, his songs are made up in his head. They often sound like something you would imagine at a church revival, or a tribal ceremony.

What else would you expect from a South African kid?

They sound something like this:

Clearly, my kid is talented 🙂

***

So imagine my surprise when he came home from his new school the other day with a very sorrowful face. I asked him what was the matter, and he said “Mom, I don’t know how to sing.”

I laughed. (Bad parenting move.) I tried again, “What are you talking about? You LOVE to sing!!”

He explained to me that singing is really difficult. And a lot of the kids in his class know lots of songs. Real songs. The ones that have words.

And he doesn’t know the words. He further explained: “My mind doesn’t know all of those words. They fall out of my mind and I can’t sing.”

My heart had one of those “mommy surges” where you can literally feel the pain that your children are experiencing.

I tried, so so tenderly, to explain that singing is all about the joy – that there are no rules. That he doesn’t need to fear the words, they will either come, or he can continue to make up his own. That the most important thing is to enjoy singing, and to never, ever worry about the words falling out of your mind.

***

When do we learn to be afraid?

I’m learning, from my son, that it starts early, and it starts out in small ways.

Babies aren’t afraid. That’s why they require parents. They are born fearless, and will try anything once. It’s the way we learned all the things that we know – by playing, experimenting – within the boundaries our parents created to keep us safe.

But somewhere around two years old, we start to see patterns and consequences. We begin to realize that our actions lead to positive and negative outcomes, and depending on the circumstances, we learn to curb our behaviors and avoid the pain of negative consequences.

Which is all fine and good, until we learn to be afraid of the things that give us profound joy and meaning.

Like when we start believing that there is one way to do things.

Like when we start being afraid of messing up the words while singing.

And when we stop singing as a result.

***

The fear of failure, or embarrassment, or regret: these are the fears that paralyze us. They are the fears that keep us from achieving our greatest, most wonderful, most profound joys.

When we are too afraid to do the things that we love, or take risks when we set out to do something important, we deny ourselves the very essence of our humanity. We lose the power that is inside every one of us to live fully.

This month, try singing.

Try making up your own words.

It takes practice, but we can unlearn those fears that hold us back.