Temprano: Facing fear, cultivating curiosity

David Temprano, Op-Ed Contributor

Sunless lands of the unknown, where curiosity skulked and manifested grotesque creatures, were a source of my distress and scorn. These agents of stress were initially shoddy in character before worsening over time, warping the environment of my mind with schisms of doubt, profusely increasing my pulse and giving way to fear. 

Fear of the unknown is a primordial feeling that forced me to succumb to its demands and make sense of them. Much like how many of us used to be afraid of the dark, anxiously peering under our bed and seeking assurance from our loved ones of safety and protection. However, fear’s demands are stubborn building blocks to belabor over as they set me adrift into uncharted territories, challenging creativity and clarity of thought. But what sense can we make of fear and its effects?

I assert the answer lies in understanding our curiosity. The truth, although relative, brings comfort, relief and harmony just as much as it brings discomfort, burden and conflict. Some may quote actor Jack Nicholson as Colonel Nathan Jessup in “A Few Good Men” when he says, “You can’t handle the truth!” However, we can if we take further action.  

As a kid, I feared the unknown because I failed quite often. I’d cope with my anxiety of not knowing by creating temporary ways to feel better about myself. I used to turn in my timed tests before the smartest kids in the class to throw them off their game, despite most of my answers being wrong. For a while, they thought I was a genius, but the dreaded parent-teacher conferences unmasked my facade.

Over time, I remedied this fear by not misattributing luck to skill or vice versa. I also accepted that being afraid was an opportunity to refine my curiosity and skills. Not knowing turned frustrations into decisions, propelling an ever-changing cycle of newfound questions and answers. My quest for truth has involved navigating this confusing terrain and satiating the appetite for fear. 

In the piece “5 Things You Never Knew About Fear,” Northwestern Medicine clinical Psychologist Zachary Sikora expresses that “fear is our survival response,” with effects that can lead to increased preparedness, learning and adaptation, but also anxiety and avoidance. The amygdala, a part of the brain responsible for this subconscious reaction, often reacts to change as a threat and mistakes routine for security. How I’ve learned to cope with fear, then, is crucial to how I balance feelings and behaviors, aspiring to tilt the odds in my favor. Akin to how years of practice, curiously confronting my pauses and hesitations, transformed my stutter into proficient use of language and relentless confidence.

Instead of letting fear conceal their complexity and hinder their ability to recognize and pierce falsehoods, our ancestors similarly embraced curiosity. For them, resilience and adaptability through trial and error led to a rich history of discoveries, inventions and breakthroughs. A testament to their creativity, imagination and authority. Consequently, curiosity, when tempered with caution, possesses the capacity to transform fear into excitement, embodying the spirit and purpose of our self-determination.

Presently, mindfulness of my purpose — with the primal truth that to be afraid is to be alive — empowers me. These practices allow me to fully embrace the fear of being a first-generation law student along with the weight of being the older sibling of two other aspiring law students. Instead of following a dark and broken compass, sleepwalking through life and indulging in transcendental nonsense, I constantly retrace my memories and dissect the thoughts, feelings and experiences that put me in jeopardy. I try again and again, tweak after tweak, until I am no longer weak.

By embracing fear as a natural byproduct of survival instead of a guilty secret, I believe we can mirror the strength of our heroes and effectively weave the rich tapestry of our lives. Although the heroic may occasionally disappoint, their will to grow, amend and hold their heads high is a testament to the curiosity that fuels their courage and creativity. 

Allow yourself to embody an epic excitement to which fear itself cowers, equipping you to not only survive but also thrive with excellence in mind. 

David Temprano is a student at the Pritzker School of Law. He can be contacted at [email protected]. If you would like to respond publicly to this op-ed, send a Letter to the Editor to [email protected]. The views expressed in this piece do not necessarily reflect the views of all staff members of The Daily Northwestern.