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Monsters and stuff




“Don’t turn the lights off, Mummy!” the little girl says.

“What are you afraid of darling?”  Her mum asks.

“I don’t know. Monsters and stuff…”  she replies.

Monsters and stuff? It is just her poor little imagination getting the best of her.   While we know she probably has not seen any real life monsters apart from the nicely drawn characters in her cartoons, she truly believes they exist and that belief drives her fears.

As we get older we, it is easy to see why this little girl’s fears are unfounded.  We all know monsters in such a context do not exist.  If we asked a group of 10 children to sketch what they believe a monster looks like, we would get ten very different portraits.  Of course, the child with the most disturbing portrait is probably your next Stephen King.

Although there may be common themes to the children’s drawings such as ugly faces, large claws or sharp teeth, these commonalities can be attributed to the monsters described in children’s fiction rather than any child’s personal encounter with a monster.  However, explaining this to a child is an exercise in futility; for as long as a child thinks ‘monsters and stuff’ exist, then they must really exist.

Thankfully, most children eventually grow out of this phase and probably even smile when they remember how ludicrous their beliefs were.

But do we ever really grow out of the fear of monsters and stuff?  Paranormal Activity was deemed the scariest movie of 2009 but it is my understanding that no monsters or ghosts were actually depicted in this movie.  Audiences around the world became kids again, imagining things existed even though no concrete sign of existence was explicitly shown on screen.

As adults, we should know better than to be afraid of monsters and stuff but we all know this is really not a fear of evil creatures.  It is the fear of the unknown. It is the fear of trying something new.  It is the fear of starting a new relationship.  It is the fear of changing careers.  It is the fear of failing.  It is the fear of not being able to control what happens next.

The fear of the unknown without any previous experience to validate this fear can be very limiting.   Many have lived mediocre lives because they were afraid of change, afraid of what might or might not have happened if they made that change.  Others have gone as far as taking their lives because they could not bear the prospect of not knowing what would happen next.

Yet like the little girl that believed monsters existed without ever having seen one, how can we believe something may or may not happen without ever going through the experience?  And if monsters really did exist, how does the child know that leaving the lights on will scare them away if she has never been face to face with one before? The same goes for us.  How do we know the decisions we take to mitigate our fear of the unknown are the right ones if we have never even experienced what we are afraid of?

Now, this writer is not coming from a position of no fear because I am probably more afraid of the unknown than the average person.  No matter how many self-help books we read, fear is a natural human emotion which we can’t conquer.  Still, the next time you are faced with a difficult decision which brings about this fear, ask yourself; ‘Is my fear justified or am I making up monsters and stuff again?’ Though we might not be able to totally conquer our fears, but maybe, just maybe, we might be able to win one or two personal battles over fear this year.

By the way, I never got to finish the story.  After the girl tells her mum that she is afraid of monsters and stuff, her mum indulges her and replies, “Well, I can leave the lights on if you want but you should know that the tooth fairy and Santa Claus only come when the lights are off so nobody can see them.  Do you really want to miss out on all the gifts they have for you?”

The same question applies to us.  What could we be missing out on because we are leaving the lights on?


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