It’s the middle of the night. And there’s a knock on the front door. It feels scary, but you run upto it to investigate. You shout out to ask who it is. There is no response. Your heart is pounding as you open the front door. Thanks to heavy winds, it turns out a huge branch has fallen and it has come “knocking” tonight.
How do you feel now? There’s no hint of fear that had paralyzed you just a few seconds ago.
This tells us a few things. That ignorance is fear. Fear is anti-existence. And the more you find out, there’s less to fear.
For most of us, the fear of judgment and criticism can stop us dead in our tracks. Fear is that feeling, it’s an irrational belief. It’s the belief that we and our intentions are going to be misunderstood. Too little of it, and we’re deemed irrational. And too much of it, we’re labeled cowards.
How Fear Sabotages Our Emotions:
Fear is the underlying cause for a lot of negative emotions we experience in life like anxiety, worry, apprehension, mistrust, dismay, panic, timidity, despondency, and restlessness.
Our fear manifests as profound and dangerous emotions like hate, guilt and greed. It comes from our deep insecurities of not being able to live upto our own expectations. Fear after failure or any setbacks is because of our belief that we’re not redeemable and life is fatalistic.
When we feel threatened, we pull out our weapon, anger. The threat might pass or evaporate soon. But, we’re left carrying the weapon in our hands. Sadly, weapons are seductive and addictive because of their promise of power.
When we internalize fear and shame, we start performing rather than living. When we’re performing, we’re living for others rather than being our authentic selves.
Why Fear Is Dangerous?
Fear is sometimes debilitating enough to become fatal. Firefighters see this first hand, people who panic are the ones to lose their life in a fire. Fear is different than danger. Fear is sometimes perceived danger. But danger is a real, immediate and a palpable threat.
As children, we are born with two fears. The fear of falling and that of loud noises. As we grow older, we start fearing the unknown and fear change to our status quo. As parents, we become paralyzed with the fear that our children will not grow up to become productive people. Or that they might not live a full life until old age.
Fear in its worst form, the chronic and the ever-present kind is dangerous for our health. It compromises the immunity and hurts the heart and the gut. It affects our daily life because it interferes with rational decision making, and leaves us with poor judgement and impulsivity.
As adults, we have these primary fears.
- Not being liked
- Making wrong choices
- Drawing negative attention
- Of overreacting
- Being judged
- Being invisible
The Opposite Of Fear:
Fear and Courage are like two peas in a pod. Only when we experience fear, we have a chance to exercise our courage.
When we live with courage, we live a life of no regret. We live true to our values. But, waiting for ourselves to become bulletproof and perfect one day in the future is a mental hurdle that needs to be overcome. Courage gives us that permission to start even while we’re imperfect and even when our circumstances are chaotic.
It is the fuel of our relentless purpose and our unwavering belief in ourselves. It is the source of sunshine that can help us stick out for ourselves.
Aristotle said Courage is the first virtue. Without it, there’s no:
1. Speaking up for yourself.
2. Resilience in the face of constant failures and obstacles.
3. Finding yourself in a path no one else has been on.
4. Doing something for the first time.
5. Doing the right thing when everyone else is going with the flow.
6. Learning something new.
7. Picking up the pieces and moving on after the death of a loved one.
8. Forgiving a loved one and picking up the phone to reconnect.
9. Public speaking for the first time and all times.
10. Finding the will to live when all hope is lost.
11. Strength and will to change your mind.
How To Develop Courage:
Courage is a responsibility that we must inculcate in ourselves so we can make our world a better place to live in. Courage will allow us to do the right thing even in the most difficult of times.
Here are the stepping stones for adapting courage.
- First by understanding our emotions. Self-Awareness.
- Next by understanding the purpose of our struggle. Meaning of Life.
- By being honest and true to yourself. Authenticity.
- By aligning your words and actions inspite of pushback from external forces. Congruence.
The other secret of sustained courage in our lives is to know what our destination is. Only when we know where we’re headed, we’ll have the courage to face any upheavals along the way.
Working towards our destination without fear can happen when we cultivate:
Teaching Children Courage:
To build emotionally mature children we must allow them to deal with their own fears. Instead of sheltering and protecting unconditionally, give them the gift of courage and problem solving to endure tough situations. Unless it’s a life and death situation, don’t rescue them. It will help them exercise their courage muscle over and over again while the stakes are not too high.
Insecurities on the other hand are real and must be addressed. Children long for their parents nurture, and they carry the threat of a real fear in their hearts. The fear of being invisible to their busy parents can crush a child’s emotional wellbeing.
Ghosting And The Courage To Follow Through:
Dictionary says, Ghosting is the practice of ending a personal relationship with someone by suddenly and without explanation withdrawing from all communication. Young people ghost each other these days after going on dates for a few times. They simply don’t have the people skills to face the other person to say, “Let’s call it quits.” or, “Let’s not hang out anymore.”
Most teens and young adults who haven’t had the chance to develop sophisticated communication skills or conflict resolution skills to manage relationships are taking this easy way out of sticky situations. It’s sad, but this is a flagship “communication” trend of our digital age. Simply put, they’re scared to say, simple and kind words like, “Sorry, this is not going to work out.”
Courage In Leadership:
Our children now have Malala Yousafzai and Great Thunberg as their role models. Just what about them makes these young women our heroes?
Here are three traits that seem irresistible in leaders.
- The courage to stand up for what they believe in.
- The unwavering quality of authenticity – always being themselves, and
- The quality to stand up to bullies.
Given a choice to pick between rich and famous young people vs. the ones who fight for themselves and others, it’s obvious who we’re going to be drawn to.
Vulnerability And The Courage To Be Imperfect:
Vulnerability means being courageous enough to admit our shortcomings. It is our willingness to say “I love you” first. It is our courage to be imperfect and compassionate with ourselves.
Vulnerability comes from a place of understanding that when we put ourselves out there in our complete honesty, we might get hurt. And that our embarrassment or our hurt will only make us stronger. After all, isn’t the one getting pummeled in the arena far more courageous than the one booing from the sidelines??
The Cultural Context of Courage:
All said and done, here’s something important about the concept of Courage. The truth is, we’re not even half as courageous as the mythical heroes we read about and our super heroes we see in movies. Similarly, the Western and Eastern cultures have their own thresholds for what acts of courage might look like. In most countries, culture determines to what extent the community goes to in the name of courage.
Whether, you’re trying to fight the blues of a global Pandemic, or fighting off a 6th grade bully, or jumping into a pool to save a stranger’s life, or fighting off a cockroach in your bathroom, your courage is yours.
In the end, Courage is a Personal Choice. When was the last time you put a courageous face on? What would you do if you weren’t afraid?