Caution and Fear are like stepbrothers in this extended family we call the human race. They have a common parent — us — so they share a lot of similarities. Both can protect us, and both can ensure that we do fewer impractical things in life like cat-juggling or bear selfies.
When they are behaving themselves, they are pretty good kids; but the trouble is, neither of them want to behave, and they require a lot of supervision. I know this because (spoiler alert) I was something of a problem child myself, and it took me years, decades even, to realize what I put my parents through.
So, I know how problem children operate.
It’s late at night and Caution and Fear are asleep in their bunk beds (Fear is in the bottom bunk, because heights are scary), and the only light is the soft glow of their Spider-Man light switch. Suddenly, there is a noise outside the window, and Fear is wide awake. Some nights when this happens, Fear just hunkers down under his blankets and waits for the worst to happen, because he knows it always does. But other nights he pokes the bottom of Caution’s bunk and whispers (loudly) “what was that?” or “there’s a monster outside the window!” And he keeps this up until he gets a reaction.
Unfortunately, Caution is a heavy sleeper — and he knows how his brother gets. Maybe he ignores the poking, or mumbles something like “shut up and go back to sleep.” But if Fear pokes him enough, he eventually does wake up, and he is almost always angry that he was pulled out of his comfortable dreams. But, being the more practical of the two, he decides to listen for the noise himself. This is hard to do, of course, because once Fear has an audience, he becomes a full-tilt Diva and begins multiplying the “monster” he heard scratching around the windowsill until there is a herd of scary creatures in the front yard singing to themselves about how much they love eating little boys in bunk beds.
By this point, all Caution can hear is his brother — who by this time has ceased to be useful. Sometimes Caution manages to calm his brother down long enough to check for what caused the noise, but this isn’t always the case. More often than not, once Fear gets rolling, Caution just gets frustrated and does one of two things to remedy the situation. Either he shoves the dresser over in front of the window to block any possible monster from entering, or he simply goes back to bed and pulls the pillow over his head to muffle his brother’s voice. So, what we (they both belong to us, after all) are left with is two upset kids and no clear idea about the problem — or even if there really is a problem.
The truth of the matter is — all scratched floors from sliding dressers and waking everyone up yelling “monster” aside — these two metaphorical brothers are good kids. When they have the proper supervision, that is. They are even beneficial to us and the entire metaphorical family. Fear alerts us to potential dangers and Caution helps us respond to them. But it is up to us to teach them how to work together because, honestly, have you ever known brothers to agree on anything? I haven’t, because both brothers think they are always right.
Balance has never been more important than it is now, when the world is facing the COVID-19 pandemic. Maybe Fear was right, and there is a “monster” outside the window or the front door, but his job ended once he alerted us to the danger. Now he is simply running around the bedroom gargling bleach and dowsing himself with hand sanitizer while building a toilet paper fort, which is less than helpful to say the least. But he did wake up his brother, which is a good thing, if he just lets Caution take over and do his job.
Caution needed to be woke up, because he was sleeping and didn’t hear the noise. Once he’s awake, however, he can assess the situation and see what needs to be done — assuming his brother calms down enough to let him work. It is Caution after all who makes plans and takes steps to keep the “monster” at bay. Caution is the one who gets the entire family together to determine how big the monster is, and what is the best way to get rid of it. And along the way, maybe he can calm his brother down, if only just a little.
Now is the time for Caution, yes, and applying practical measures to get us through the crisis. Just remember that Fear is still awake, still yelling “monster,” because that’s what Fear does. And his voice is very loud and hard to ignore. But he has helped all he can, and we need to focus on how to fix the problem to which he has alerted us. Because as a family; as a community, state, country, and world; we can get through the crisis. If we all work together.
Reach CHARLES ROMANS at (606) 326-2655 or firstname.lastname@example.org.