Fight or Flight
10 October 2001

Japanese Peace Crane

Katherine Phelps

"Fight or flight" this is the survival instinct that animals have hard wired into their brains: fight the enemy who threatens you and by chasing them off or wounding them, live another day; or flee the enemy and in escape also live to see another day. These are not bad or evil responses, they are evolutionary tools that ensure continuance of an individual creature and whole species.

"Fight or flight" the response that causes the heart rate to increase, breathing to become faster, and hormones to start pumping, and thereby acts of aggression or retreat are more effective. We feel anger or fear under the circumstances as human animals. The only problem is that as sapient beings what triggers this response becomes much more complex, and our response can potentially be more lethal.

Sometimes we keep ourselves in a state of "fight or flight" as a form of protection, resulting in hatred and/or paranoia. Sometimes our imaginations are used such that we feel threatened more often than we really are. Sometimes people even come to thrill at the hormonal high of it, and therefore seek it out in harmful ways. These are where "fight or flight" have gone wrong.

We are aware enough creatures that we have become concerned about our emotional and intellectual survival, particularly in the shape of the ego, as well as physical survival. These are our primary tools for interacting with our environment, and therefore are important to protect in some manner. However, what poses as a genuine threat to these things? How are they protected? We are a very young species and are only just beginning to grapple with the intricacies of these questions. We have, nevertheless, come to a point where we can begin to see how some solutions work and others do not. These solutions only come when we allow ourselves to use our awareness for balancing "fight or flight" with our thoughts and feelings.

I believe we need to begin by respecting our sense of being threatened. We each have something valuable we are capable of contributing to the world, we are worthy of protection and survival. I believe we need to respect feelings of grief, anger, fear, pain. They alert us that something has been tipped out of balance: that we had something precious, or that we recognise that we can have something precious. We need to remember or imagine what it is like when things are in balance, when we are in a state where peace, compassion, abundance, and kindness abounds, recognising how these flow easily when they are shared. Then we need to make considered personal choices about what we can do to bring balance about.

Truly "fight or flight" was a simple gift from a simple age, and we can now choose how we respond to it, creating a world where we can genuinely feel safe.