I’ve battled a fear of heights for most of my life.
It started when I was nine or ten when I was helping my dad in our backyard. He was in construction and has been on top of buildings and working in dangerous situations most of his life. This particular day he was on top of our roof, leaning over the edge and cleaning the gutters out, almost 4 stories high (around 40 feet or 12 metres). No safety harness, no protective equipment. Just crouched on the edge of the roof leaning over and scooping leaves out of the gutter.
To me, as a child, the only thing I could think was “if he falls off that roof he’s going to die and I will not have a dad anymore”. Spoiler alert: he didn’t.
Many years later I was speaking with a doctor and he helped me understand something about that situation that I had been practicing for other events in my life but that I didn’t for this one. I could have looked at that event a totally different way. Instead of fear of losing my dad I could have looked at it as “look how brave/strong he is. That’s nothing to be afraid of. He can do it, so can I.”
The same goes with everything in our lives. We can look at every event through the lens of our own experiences and our mood at the time. Instead of being afraid of heights, I could have taken that experience and realized I could be working up high as well. Throughout my life I have ‘forced’ myself to go up ladders, shingle roofs, and work on the side of buildings, when I could have not given it a second thought.
The photo above illustrates how your perception of an event can change depending on your angle or point of view: from the one angle it looks like Prince William is ‘flipping off’ the crowd, but the other angle shows him clearly signalling ‘three’. Had you only seen the top image you would have an impression or opinion of the Prince that would be very different than if you had only seen the bottom image.
All of life is the same way. We are only able to see things from our limited perspective at the time, through the filters of experience, education and mood. A person cuts you off in traffic is a jerk or the guy talking on his phone and ignoring you is rude. From a different perspective it may be that the person who cut you off is on the way to the hospital to see their sick relative, or the guy on the phone is talking his wife down from a panic attack. Until you’ve ‘walked a mile in their shoes’ you don’t know what they are going through and what is driving their current behaviour.
Since my realization I don’t think about going up a ladder, up a rock wall or across a narrow platform. It’s not a problem because my attitude toward heights has changed. Don’t get me wrong, I have a healthy mistrust of heights, but it isn’t a paralyzing fear anymore. Now every time something happens to me I try and see if there is a different interpretation that I can put on it.