What thoughts, images, or feelings pop into your head when I say the word shark to you?
Likely, the connotation you have with sharks is not that positive.
For some of you, the movie Jaws may come to mind. A movie about a shark causing death and destruction.
We also know stories about human beings being attacked by sharks close to beaches resulting in death or body parts lost in the attacks.
Those stories have caused many of us to experience fear when the topic is sharks.
On our recent trip to the Maldives, we signed up for a few snorkeling excursions. At the introduction to the trip, the possibility of a shark encounter was brought up.
It didn’t sound very tempting to go snorkeling and be served for breakfast to a bunch of sharks.
I guess the guide witnessed our facial expression as he soon clarified that while these fish were called sharks, they had never attacked any human being.
“This type of shark couldn’t care less about a human being in his surroundings,” he added.
Yeah, right, I thought.
Then he described the types of sharks we would probably meet. Most of them are small, measuring about 50cm.
That should have been a comforting thought, but when you know that one mosquito during the night can also cause despair, a 50cm shark can do the same.
After the amygdala part of my brain had processed the perceived risk with the corresponding flight reaction as a consequence, the rational neocortex part of my brain kicked in.
“Erik, we’re in a luxury resort here, owned by an American company that can’t afford itself to harm its good name through a Dutch tourist being consumed by a 50cm shark.”
And indeed, our snorkeling trip was a perfectly calm, relaxing encounter with some pretty coral and nice colorful fish looking like Nemo.
During our snorkeling, I never witnessed any fish that resembled sharks. They must have been deeper in the ocean.
It was all a calm walk in the underwater park.
Most sharks are not dangerous. Only a dozen of the more than 300 species are known to attack humans.
Going on a bike ride through Prague is far more dangerous than snorkeling in the Maldives.
Reflecting on this event, I concluded that the biggest shark sits in your head.
You’re your own Jaws.
Our behavior is often a result of our past and what we grew up with.
Shark means danger. Until it doesn’t.
It’s all part of the perceptions we’ve built during our lives.
In a world where it’s no longer about the possibility but rather the speed of change, we must be ready to adapt instantly, willing to change our perceptions, assumptions, and presumptions.
A shark may just as well be a pet.
Holding on to what you were taught at a younger age won’t help you to stand out, let alone survive.
It’s a world of constant learning and adapting.
Those who don’t will be eaten alive. By the real sharks. And they’re not fish.
Your turn: Love or hate sharks?
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