Facing Your Fears is Overrated

I’ve been afraid of snakes for as long as I can remember.  I’m really not sure why, though.  To my knowledge, I didn’t have any run-ins with one as a kid.  The only snake-related event I can recall was over very quickly.  My parents saw a garter snake somewhere near the house we lived in when I was very little (I may have been 3 or 4 at this point), and my father chopped the thing’s head off with a shovel. 

Certainly there’s nothing about that event that should have inspired a life-long fear in me.  If anything, I’d say my father, who is generally the mild-mannered college professor type, proved fairly conclusively that we humans have the upper hand in this particular relationship.

Despite this knowledge, I was still petrified of the slithery little bastards, which I find odd considering how rarely I actually encountered them outside of a zoo.  I can remember seeing one swimming in a creek when I was in elementary school.  I very quickly went the other way.  Then in junior high, my Boy Scout troop leader had one at his house.  It was a pet, I believe, and was being used to teach scouts about the animals.  I refused to go in until the snake was gone. 

(As a side note, this was just one of many reasons why scouting wasn’t for me.  I hated the cold, and I had pretty bad allergies in the Spring, Summer, and Fall.  Why did I think I had any business being involved with a group that focused on being outdoors all the time.  My idea of camping was staying in a motel.  In retrospect, I’m surprised I made it as long as I did: a whopping six months.

Back to the horrible creatures at hand, snakes continued to scare me throughout my child and teen years.  If I had a nightmare, odds are a snake was in there somewhere.  I’d like to claim that I’m over it now, but…no.  I’m not.

Several years ago when I was out doing some yard work, I ran across a snake while I was running the weed trimmer around a tree.  Now this snake was small.  Tiny really.  It probably only about eight inches long (20 centimeters, for my more metrically-inclined friends) and not much fatter than a drinking straw.

I, however, instantly turned into a scream-queen from a B-grade horror flick.  There was squealing.  Lots of high-pitched squealing as the think writhed in front of me (I think I probably stunned with the weed trimmer, which makes sense considering it probably had just been smacked in the head by a fast-moving piece of plastic cord.  I dropped the weed trimmer, grabbed the neared sizable stick I could find, and proceeded to beat the thing to death.  Okay.  It was more of a panicked flail that happened to make contact a couple of times, but in the end the deed was done.  The serpentine menace was no more.  I successfully slew a stunned baby snake.

Go me.

I managed to scoop the corpse up and fling it into the underbrush and then went inside and hired somebody else to mow my lawn from that day forward.  I may be lying about that last part. 

Looking back on my ridiculous actions, I want to know where this deep-seated terror came from.  I know it’s a completely irrational fear, but that doesn’t help me find the source of it.  Is there just something inside my genetic makeup, perhaps something passed down from my ancestors that did have to fear snakes?  Other people love snakes.  They even keep them as pets (Eeagggggh!).  The revulsion I feel can’t just be inherent to humans.  There’s something about me.

Of course, snake fears aren’t the only irrational ones out there.  Heights don’t bother me, but others, such as my mother, can’t stand them.  Some of these fears just seem to be basic and ingrained parts of who we are.  Welcome to the World!  You have blue eyes, blond hair, and you’re deathly afraid of clowns.  Go forth and be petrified. 

I find the possibility that we have these fears already inside of us at fascinating.  I’m not sure if it’s true.  Perhaps there is some snake-related event in my past that set off the fear in the first place, but fear of snakes (Technically ophidiophobia.  Herpetophobia is a more general fear of reptiles.) is pretty common.  Maybe there is something about them that we humans just don’t like, and those people who keep them as pets are just hiding their disgust or are just plain weird.

I can try to analyze it all I want, but at the proverbial end of the day, I still don’t want to be anywhere near a snake.  I could try to use my intellect to overcome my instinct to fear them, but…I’m not going to.  My primitive hindbrain gets to win on this one.  Faced with a snake, I will continue to scream and run away, thank you very much.

- Alan Decker

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