There is nothing I love more than a person who loves their job and does a kick ass job at doing it. Yesterday, I found such a person – an educator at the Zoo. I first stumbled upon her in the Manatee exhibit, where we were 4 of only 7 people in the building. My inner-Grandma Mary came out to play and I chatted with this treasure trove of information. Her life-changing scientific observation was this:
Manatees have no fear.
None. They have no known predators. Apparently their body lacks the tasty-substance that carnivores seek, and over time have evolved to be known as utterly useless when dead. So beasts of prey leave them alone. And manatees know this.
The manatees are like the homecoming queens of the ocean. They believe that everybody loves them – or, at least, won’t outright hurt them. They offer more to the world alive than dead and they intrinsically know it.
Can you imagine living without fear? Leaving the house with an understanding that no is was out to get you? Basking in the freedom to love and trust. I can only imagine the life of a manatee to be filled with joy and play and mutually beneficial relationships. Part of me wants to be a manatee.
However, there’s a downfall to such confidence. Boats.
Manatees seem to be endangered not because of the ecosystem’s natural attrition but because their friendliness toward the world leads them to swim toward, rather than away from, ships. Boats of humans don’t seek to destroy the manatee, but the overly-friendly water mammals swim toward, in their eyes, the new potential sea-friend. And then they die.
You see, fear plays a vital role in our survival. That surge of fight/flight/freeze keeps us safe. A life with nothing to be afraid of will get you run over by a boat.
The moral of the story is not to be fear-less. Our culture touts a lack of fear as synonymous with untouchable. The near-extinction of the manatee proves this isn’t the result.
I counter we need more awareness with healthy proportions of fear. The challenge is to put fear in the correct seat – not driving, but an alert passenger, well familiar with the countryside. As Elizabeth Gilbert writes, talk to your fear. Let it come along. Just make sure it’s not tripping you up at every turn.
More than any other command in the Bible is “fear not.” Why? Because the fear cripples the faithfulness. God doesn’t ask us not to feel the fear, but rather not to live by fear. There’s a huge difference between pretending we’re invincible and knowing that your next right step is protected and encouraged by God’s presence.
The sweet spot is to become like the manatee, believing not everyone is out to get us, but grow in our awareness – of our environment, of our natural place within the world, and the ways in which God has called us to live.
Love and live with your eyes open.