On Fear and Courage

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fearSo many people are afraid of fear.  We feel its cold touch in our hearts and on our skins and we shrink and try to drive it from our souls. It’s one of the “negative emotions” that we wish to delete from our lives along with anger, guilt, sadness and pain.  There’s so much to fear in our lives.  We feel fear  for the first time at a very young age, when we are first separated from our mothers.  Fear colors nearly everything we do in our lives.  As children, we learn to fear pain, darkness, weather, dreams, strangers, separation and lots of other things.  Eventually, we learn to cope with some of these fears and, quite often, we learn to think of fear as a weakness.  Is it really a weakness, though?  Well, in some cases, yes.  In others, not really.

As children, fear is a necessary emotion.  Fear is one of the great teachers.  Parents quite frequently use fear to teach children caution. For example:846-02792158

  • “If you touch a hot stove, you will be burned.”
  • “If you run out into the street, you could be hit by a car.”
  • “If you jump from the roof, you will NOT fly!”
  • “Wear a helmet when you’re riding your bike, in case you’re in an accident.”
  • “If you ever (action) again, I’ll ground you for a week!”

caveman-scared-13164514Speaking from a purely evolutionary and/or creationary standpoint, I believe fear has a particular purpose in our lives.  Fear, in my personal opinion, is there to let us know we’re about to do something that could be personally dangerous in some way, physically, mentally, emotionally, even spiritually.  The point when fear becomes a weakness is when you allow it to rule your life.  This is when you need to learn courage.

Too many people think courage is a lack or absence of fear.  This is just not so.  Courage is fear used proactively.  Lack of fear can make you do some really stupid stuff.  To use an example from fantasy fiction, a knight in shining armor without fear is more likely to be slain by the dragon than slay it and rescue the damsel.  Whereas a knight with fear is usually only cowardly if he runs away.

So, how do you cultivate courage if you don’t think you have it?  Here’s my step-by-step tutorial:

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  1. Recognize your fear.  The first thing you have to do in changing how you react to fear is to acknowledge the fear exists.  If you don’t acknowledge it, you can’t change it.
  2. Figure out the reason for your fear.  Once you have acknowledged that you are, in fact, afraid, your next step is to understand the reason for your fear.  Just stick to the first level of fear for now.  If you find that this doesn’t help you, feel free to dig deeper and find out what the basic reason is for your fear.  Is it pain, loss, death, something else?  If you find you need to, pin that sucker down!
  3. Review your options.  Put aside your fear for a second.  If the fear wasn’t there, and you had a moment to think, what would be the wisest, most thoughtful thing to do? Take your time and really consider.
  4. Decide on the right thing to do. Having looked over your options, which is the one that feels like the right thing to do?  If you can, take your time.  Wise decisions aren’t usually made in a second.
  5. Do the right thing, even though you’re still afraid.  Once you know what the right thing is to do, the next step, quite obviously, is to do it.  This can be difficult, since the fear that made you stop and think in the first place will still be there.  However, once you’ve done the right thing, whatever that is, the fear should dissipate.

Let’s use our knight from the earlier example to illustrate this process.

  1. Recognize your fear. As he rides up to the dragon’s cave intent on rescuing the damsel, our knight notes that his heart rate has increased.  He is hyperventilating a bit.  His skin has become cold and clammy.  His palms are sweaty.  His body is shaking.  His mind shrieks at him with the desire to run away.  Noticing all of these symptoms, he stops where he is and says to himself.  “I am afraid.”
  2. Figure out the reason for your fear.  The knight knows that the basic reason he’s afraid is the dragon, which is probably several times larger than him, has large razor sharp teeth and can, quite possibly, breathe fire and roast him and his horse together, shiny armor or not.  What’s the basic reason he’s afraid?  Simple!  He is afraid he will die.
  3. Review your options. The knight knows he has a number of options.  He can ride in and simply attack the dragon. This choice will almost assuredly result in the knight’s death.  He can try to talk to the dragon.  If the dragon is intelligent enough to be able to understand and respond to human speech, the knight might be able to negotiate a deal with the dragon.  If the dragon is just a ravening monster, this could be just as disastrous as simply dashing in and attacking.  So, talking to the dragon has about a 50% chance of resulting in the knight’s death.  The knight can wait for the dragon to fall asleep and try to liberate the damsel without killing the dragon at all.  This option carries fewer risks.  However, there’s still the possibility that the dragon may wake up during the operation, so it’s still potentially dangerous.  If knight wishes, he can choose to observe the dragon to see if it is intelligent enough to comprehend human speech or not.  This option is likely to give the knight the information he needs to make a wise decision.  Finally, the knight can wait for the dragon to fall asleep and then simply stab it in a sensitive area, such as an eye, while it’s sleeping.  This last alternative is less honorable than the other two, but is the option most likely to result in his coming out alive.
  4. Decide on the right thing to do. Our knight is an honorable man, so he decides that the last option, killing the dragon in its sleep, is a cowardly solution and, therefore, beneath him.  However, the first option, just rushing in and attacking the dragon, would be foolhardy and unlikely to give him the result he wants, namely obtaining the liberty of the damsel.  Speaking to the dragon carries risks that make him uncertain he’s willing to attempt it.  Likewise, simply sneaking in and rescuing the damsel while the dragon is sleeping seems equally risky.  The knight chooses to watch the dragon and see if it’s intelligent.  If it is intelligent, he will attempt to parley with it and try to negotiate the release of the damsel.  If it isn’t, he decides that killing it in its sleep, though less honorable, would be the best option, since that would prevent the creature from doing further damage to the neighboring countryside.
  5. Do the right thing, even though you’re still afraid. Having decided what to do, the knight leaves his charger at a good grazing location, where it’s unlikely to be noticed by the dragon. He then creeps up to the dragon’s lair and watches it covertly for a while.  After three days, he notices that the damsel is still alive and does not seem to have been mistreated.  After nine days, he discovers the damsel and the dragon talking to each other.  This provides him with a vital piece of information.  The dragon is, indeed, intelligent enough to understand human speech.  Removing his helmet, the knight, still terrified, because there is still a risk of death in the action he’s chosen, moves forward and, bowing politely, asks the dragon to please return the damsel.  To the knight’s astonishment, the dragon agrees on condition that the knight and the damsel return regularly for the occasional friendly conversation.  Relieved, the knight agrees and he and the damsel leave together.

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You’ll note, in our example, that the knight didn’t do anything stupid.  He carefully thought out his options and used his fear to help him come up with an intelligent and wise solution.  Had things gone differently, he would still have been prepared.  Furthermore, even though he was still afraid when he took the course of action he had decided was the right one, he didn’t allow the fear to determine his actions.  This is courage; being afraid and doing the right thing anyway.  In short, the knight’s fear helped him to stop and think rather than rushing in stupidly and getting stupidly killed.

Question time: Having read this, is there an instance in your life in which you were courageous?  Please, take the time to tell your story in the comments section below.