A literal and metaphorical lesson played itself out last week when I did what I always tell my children not to do: I panicked in the presence of a wasp. I admit, I yelped and jumped out of my seat as it made its beeline for me. Like a puppet yanked up and shaken by its master, I flailed my arms around trying to dodge its buzzing speed as it circled around me.
Sure enough, as I lowered my arm in a sudden movement, not realising that it was hovering near my armpit, the wasp pierced me with its sting. I let out a scream that could be heard from some distance as the pain and shock struck. I noticed also a sense of relief at the drama’s pinnacle having passed. The worst had happened: the wasp had stung. What was even worse though was that I knew I had brought it upon myself.
Behold, children! How not to react to a wasp.
Thankfully the sting was not very severe and after holding an ice-cube on it for a while and applying some soothing ointment, the pain soon subsided.
The following day, my 9 year old daughter showed us her amazing ability to learn from my mistakes when a wasp approached and landed on her leg. She froze and called our attention with a high-pitched whisper. She was terrified, I could see, but she kept still and in control of her panic. And she called for help. Rather than try to swat the pest away, my husband crouched down carefully and blew in its direction so it swiftly flew away.
The power of a calm and controlled reaction in the face of rising panic was striking and insightful, particularly in comparison to my behaviour the day before. I will try to channel that when next faced with something that scares me – be that a wasp or something even more sinister.
What’s funny is that the wasp sting I incurred as a result of my panic was not actually as bad as my fear of being stung. So there’s a metaphor in that too: how the thought of what you fear striking can sometimes be more frightening than the reality itself. Staying calm and in control of your reactions, and calling for help when you need it, can make all the difference.
And it’s good to be reminded that if in the event your greatest fear does become a reality, you can usually figure out a way to overcome it calmly and rationally, once the drama’s pinnacle has passed.