What if the Only Thing We Have to Fear is Forgetting the Practice of Courage?
The moment we commit our lives to avoiding discomfort, we sentence our lives to mediocrity.
As a partner to Dachshunds for many years, the picture doesn’t surprise me. These little dogs live life to the fullest. A dog trainer once said, “I would rather teach a Zebra to hold a Lion on its head than to teach a Dachshund to heed one command.”
The dogs in this picture grew up around the lion who had been rescued from a shooting and moved onto a ranch. The three animals became inseparable. As a result of overcoming fear, they have realized an unexpected gift in their lives. This is what courage is all about.
In a culture fixated on security, we have reinforced the myth that there is something fundamentally inadequate about us when we feel fear. If that is the case, we construct our lives around avoiding fear and as a result, the real and best opportunities don’t even reach our field of vision. All of this strange ideology disappears as we cross a street and a large truck roars around the corner. As it heads directly towards us our biology takes over. An alarm goes off that pours powerful hormones and chemicals into our body. This system is perfectly designed for taking us into action. Why does our culture need to make up so many strange stories and myths about basic biology? My personal belief is the mythology developed around fear is to manipulate others or simply based on naivete.
We can find this strange mythology embedded in one of our country’s most famous quotes of all time when Franklin D. Roosevelt said, “The only thing we have to fear is fear itself.” We sent over seventeen million Americans into World War II. I have yet to find any of those soldier’s stories repeating the president’s missive. On the other hand, we find countless narratives where those on the frontlines characterized the experience as the single most terrifying event in their lives. In some cases, they did hide. In others, they shot first. In every case where an individual or team succeeded, they took action.
Perhaps a healthier alternative statement would be, “The only thing have we to fear is to forget the practice courage.” True courage isn’t about walking into difficult situations as a robot devoid of feelings. As the famous male icon of that era, the brutish John Wayne once said,
“Courage is being scared to death, but saddling up anyway.”
Truly successful people are quite accustomed to the experience of fear. When we listen to high performers as they describe their breakthroughs, overcoming fear is invariably woven into the narrative. After Ellen DeGeneres got her first TV show, a journalist asked how she felt about it. She responded, “This elevates my terror to a whole new level.” Ellen didn’t allow fear to keep her from her destiny. In the same theme, as Richard Branson’s numerous businesses began to grow, he had to confront his greatest fear, which is to make presentations. Recently, he said, “There are two types of public speakers, terrified ones or liars.”
Demonizing fear has sprouted an entire human potential industry that promises if we take a course or buy a particular book, we will overcome fear. But, if it were even possible to do that, we probably wouldn’t live through the day. On the crazy streets of Los Angeles, fear has pushed me to take constant corrective action.
Think of what will happen if instead of promoting fearlessness that we reward our children, workers, colleagues, and friends for the practice of courage.
What will happen if we demonstrate the value of taking risks and going for it, regardless of whether we feel elated or shake from head to toe?
What will become of us if rather than telling someone, “Don’t be frightened,” that we praise them for pursuing what they hoped to accomplish regardless of whether they made it or failed?
In fact, if we have allowed our fears to keep us from right action, the fear of what could exist behind the curtain of the “unknown,” consider that it isn’t a boogie man, it is the life we are meant to have.
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