My very favorite book from my childhood was a volume from the LIFE Science Library called "The Mind," published in 1964. I cannot even estimate the hours I spent reading and re-reading this. It's really, really INTERESTING! There really isn't anything cooler than the human mind.

As I look through the book now (YES, I still have it!), I realize what a huge influence it had upon me, and was surely the foundation in my decision to eventually get a REEL COLEGE SKOOL degree in psychology. Scoff at my liberal arts-iness, my professional friends, go ahead! When you have a better understanding of why people do what they do, you aren't as flummoxed by the capriciousness of human behavior -- including your own. Understanding also, with practice and patience, builds compassion and empathy, qualities sorely needed in this weird old world.

Anyway, one of the entries in the book featured a full-page photo of an infant sitting on a large piece of glass suspended several feet off the ground. He is freaking out and looks extremely miserable. It's a famous bit of psychology, answering the question "at what point in development does a baby perceive something to be threatening, causing a fear response?" Pretty darn early, actually -- well before the first birthday. Prior to this development, you can sit a baby on the glass and they will be happy as a lil' clam, playing and crawling back and forth. After, they scream, cry, freeze in terror, or refuse to get on the glass at all. They now understand that by all known logic, they should now be falling a long way, and that is bad, bad, bad. It takes a bit longer for them to understand what the deal is about glass.

The development of fear is vital to our survival. Imagine if Cavey McKnuckledragger never developed a fear response -- he would have been eaten by proto-wolves or bat-tigers or something and you and I wouldn't be having this friendly Internet moment right now. But Cavey worked it all out, and learned to avoid life-threatening situations, at least long enough to procreate. The fear response, at the very beginning, is intuitive. The baby on the glass? How does he figure out that he should be freakin'? He probably hasn't even taken a fall of any kind yet in his short life (we hope). But his mind is a giant, grand thing, and it's forming connections faster than you can flip the channel off of FOX NEWS (we hope). Babies falling from high things is no good at all, says the tiny brain to Glass Baby, and you should really start crying to get someone to help you right about now, bud. Brain has protected Baby even before baby knows he has a brain. We need to feel fear to be able to navigate life's perils.

Ah, but you know what's coming next. Fear is also our worst enemy. It often grows within us unchecked, forming deep roots inside our minds, strangling rational thought or obscuring our hopes and dreams for ourselves or our loved ones. It can manifest as blatantly as a full-on wild phobia or as subtle as a completely-competent person turning down a great opportunity because of a lack of confidence. In so many ways, we are fearful over things that we shouldn't be, and our lives are lessened because of it.

We fear rejection. We fear failure. We fear success. We fear being laughed at or shamed. We fear not being liked. We fear being alone. We fear commitment. We fear what people might say about us behind our backs. We fear knowing. We fear ignorance. We fear giving everything and losing it all. We fear the illness we don't even have. We fear not fitting in. We fear never standing out in a crowd. We fear having to choose. We fear having no options. We worry and worry and fret and fret and guess WHAT?

Almost all of that is for NOTHING. It is a total WASTE. How much have you NOT DONE or NOT EVEN TRIED because of some kind of social fear? You have one life, and it's done very quickly. I congratulate you on avoiding bat-tigers and living long enough to read this, but just surviving isn't enough. It isn't, and even that freakin' baby knows that. When he gets off that awful glass, you know what he's gonna do? He's going to go back to being a scientist, exploring the world with bountiful curiosity and delight. If he wants something, he'll crawl over to get it or cry to get you to bring it to him.  Life is nothing but this amazing series of discoveries, both pleasant and perturbing, but all of it interesting and awesome. Oh, how quickly it all goes away, curiosity and resiliency replaced by worry, fear, and doubt.

How to respect the fear we must have to survive and how to smash the fear that is detrimental to our happiness and fulfillment is one of the biggest tasks we have as human beings. We must judge whether danger is real or just an illusion, which takes great determination, motivation, and honesty. Sometimes crossing the glass is the only way to get to where you need to be.