The story appears on

Page A3

June 15, 2024

GET this page in PDF

Free for subscribers

View shopping cart

Related News

Home » Opinion

Lessons from the karaoke bar: Is it always necessary to face our fears?

I’ve jumped out of an airplane. I’ve jumped off a bridge. What I’ve not done is karaoke. But given I bare my truth in the newspaper every week to goodness knows how many strangers, why can’t I sing “I Will Survive” in front of friends?

Last week, I ended up in a bar late at night with friends. And this being China, it was a karaoke bar. Wine flowed and many of the group got up to sing. The talent ranged from questionable to clear. But none of that mattered. What I saw was self-acceptance. And it was lovely.

I used to sing in the bath. Like, loud. Cher was my go-to. Family would laugh and tease my painful impersonations, but secretly loved hearing me let myself go. I don’t know when it stopped or why. But it did. That’s sad, right?

We talk about self-awareness like it’s a good thing, but sometimes being outside of ourselves is exactly where we need to be.

One of many things I love about Chinese culture is not caring what the world thinks. If you need proof, head to a park on a Saturday morning. There you will find ballroom dancers, opera singers and saxophone players all doing their thing. It’s life-affirming to see and the perfect example of personal freedom.

Recently I was invited to dance with a bright eyed, toothless fellow in Fuxing Park. I accepted and put my two left feet forward. It felt great. Such spontaneity isn’t like me. I don’t like being in the spotlight and have a fear of making a fool of myself.

Fear is a natural response designed to protect us. Being afraid of many things makes sense. If you’re not afraid of cicadas, there’s arguably something wrong with you. However, fear can also hold us back from new experiences and personal growth.

Should we seek to overcome our fears? Or is it OK to not be OK with something, no matter how trivial it seems to others?

American philosopher Ralph Waldo Emerson encouraged people to face their fears and embrace the unknown, saying: “Always do what you’re afraid to do.”

Susan Jeffers in her book “Feel the Fear and Do it Anyway” emphasizes the importance of acting despite feeling afraid.

Meanwhile in his book “The Subtle Art of Not Giving a F*ck,” Mark Manson argues it’s more important to focus on accepting our limitations and living authentically rather than striving for perfection or complete fearlessness.

Whichever side of the argument you fall, there are examples to back it up. David Blaine, an illusionist and endurance artist, faced a huge challenge when he tried to break the world record for holding his breath under water in 2008. Despite extensive training, he had a blackout and had to be rescued. Not a great advert for facing one’s fear.

On the other hand, British singer-songwriter Adele has been open about her stage fright. Despite her anxieties, she’s performed in front of huge crowds at venues like Glastonbury and was praised for her vulnerability.

So where does this leave us?

Looking at the relationship between fear and self-acceptance, we must also look at the role of societal expectations. We’re conditioned to believe that facing fears is a sign of strength, while dodging them is a sign of weakness.

But what if that’s wrong? What if true courage lies in personal choice?

Autonomy plays a big role when navigating the landscape of fear and inner harmony. Everyone has the right to decide if they want to confront their fears or accept them as part of who they are. The ability to decide based on our experiences, priorities and values is highly empowering. More so than caving into social pressures.

I think Aristotle struck a good balance. He believed that courage was the mean between cowardice and recklessness, suggesting that facing our fears with moderation is the right way to go.

With just enough wine in me, I might one day face my fear of karaoke. Until then, I plan to pick my battles wisely, and I invite you to do the same. There are enough things to beat yourself up about without worrying if you’ve been base-jumping or stroked an anaconda. A little fear never did anyone any harm. It keeps life interesting.

... Unless you’re afraid of dogs, in which case I don’t know what to tell you.


Copyright © 1999- Shanghai Daily. All rights reserved.Preferably viewed with Internet Explorer 8 or newer browsers.

沪公网安备 31010602000204号

Email this to your friend