Fear can be paralyzing; remember this lesson with snakes

My grandmother hated snakes. The only good snake was one that was in many pieces at her feet. She learned this hatred as a girl growing up on the Cumberland Plateau in East Tennessee in the days when snakes were plentiful and first aid knowledge rare.

My Dad on the other hand, prohibited the killing of snakes. Snakes were his partners in controlling the mice and rat population. It was dollars and cents to him when he saw holes in the bottom of feed sacks and tiny footprints stealing away.

My brothers and I often played in an old slate roofed barn at the corner of our property. We almost always saw a 6-foot black snake coiled in the rafters or hunting mice while slithering across the dirt floor. Occasionally, we captured and examined him but we always let him go unhurt.

So, I learned to admire and be curious about snakes. Dad taught us the characteristics of poisonous snakes. They had arrow-shaped heads, blunt tails, and a pit above the eye, hence the term pit viper. In North America, poisonous snakes have slanted cat eyes and nonpoisonous snakes have round pupils.

When I lived in Kentucky, we would sometimes see poisonous water moccasins also called cotton mouths. But in southeast Ohio, no water snakes are poisonous. As a matter of fact, I was in my mid 40s before I ever saw a wild copperhead snake and never a rattlesnake in Ohio. And I have spent many hours hiking in the woods.

I have a couple of neighbors who call me when they encounter a large black snake. A few years ago when called, I hurried to my neighbor’s garage and spotted a large black snake protruding from a lawn chair. I waved my left hand in front of it and quickly grabbed the unwelcome guest behind the head with my right hand. I carted it to the river bank and gently placed it on the ground. The snake headed straight for the river, swam across it, and continued its peaceful day.

Snakes including poisonous ones have gotten a bad rap and have been driven to the point of extinction in the eastern United States. Snakes are as wary of us as we are of them. Given the chance, they will flee in the opposite direction as quickly as possible. They do not want a fight but will defend themselves if forced to. In most cases, fear of snakes is unfounded. If I am careful and respect snakes, I can live and let live.

With the same issue, one person can be frozen with fear and another excited and stimulated to learn. When a leader sees such diverse responses to an event or thing, he/she should seek and introduce education. The more we know about a particular danger, the more we appreciate it. Fear can be incapacitating but knowledge can free one for productive action.

R. Glenn Ray, Ph.D., is the president of RayCom Learning. To learn more about Ray’s completely revised, third printing of The Facilitative Leader: Behaviors that Enable Success, visit his Web site, www.raycomlearning.com or call him at 740-629-4536. Everyday Leadership appears each Wednesday on the Business page.