I ask the same question to every audience I address. Outside of death, what’s the number one fear in America? The responses vary widely from snakes to loneliness, but public speaking never fails to make the list. What is it about speaking in front of your peers that is so terrifying?
Rejection by your social group is one of the most deeply rooted evolutionary fears. Think about what would have happened to you if you were living during ancestral times and for whatever reason, you were ostracized by your allies.
You wouldn’t stand a chance of surviving!
Despite the fact that the stakes are quite a bit lower, that adaptation that drives a need for social approval manifests itself today in ways that often manipulate us into fears and behaviors that upon closer inspection, prove to be quite ridiculous.
Consider luxury branding. Why would anyone in their right mind pay $700 for a pair of Christian Louboutin shoes? They are pieces of leather that cover your feet (in a not particularly comfortable or functional manner, for that matter) with a streak of red on the bottom. I'll be honest, I've never slipped one on personally, but I have an awfully difficult time justifying that price tag for any form of clothing.
But that red is so much more than just a color.
Louboutin’s signature red-soled shoes have become integrally entwined with wealth, status, and power. The monstrously popular hip-hop single "Bodak Yellow" even makes reference to them as a sign of a luxury afforded only to those who have money to make the expensive purchase.
"These expensive, these is red bottoms
These is bloody shoes
Hit the store, I can get 'em both
I don't wanna choose" —Cardi B
These visible signs of wealth help modern humans signal one another that they are in some way “valuable.” Hunting prowess means less in a society packed with grocery stores, and as such, we’ve developed new ways of signaling our “worth.”
In nature, we see the same concept in the peacock’s tail. A male peacock can only afford to have such an extravagant tail if he is in some way superior at gathering the food it requires to maintain such elegant plumage while avoiding predators to whom he is disadvantaged by his massive tail.
Frankly, modern-day indicators of human “worth” (like red-bottomed shoes) make about as much sense as the fear of public speaking. Consider a scenario in which a colleague gets up to make a speech. If she is awful, it’s likely you share an empathetic moment with her, imagining yourself in the same position and giving her credit for making the effort. If she’s incredible, there too, do you respect her more for her abilities? Either way, her life is not dependent upon your opinion any more than a pair of Louboutin pumps defines her value.
Let’s all make an effort to reevaluate the way we ascribe our own value and the value of others to ensure it better aligns with real contributions, rather than outdated fears and/or overpriced pumps (no offense, Christian Louboutin).