I can’t quite understand how I can make an enemy of something so vital to my — and every human’s — existence. How can I fear the inescapable reality of fear when, at times, it is in every corner of my thoughts? I am afraid to live and pursue what is meaningful to me. I will be afraid of what people think. I will be afraid of what they do not think. I will be afraid of failure; my efforts falling on their face and my persistence bearing no fruit. I will be afraid of success too, which I fear the most because I believe success can breed pride, ignorance, and arrogance; and what greater calamities than these have befallen humanity? I will be afraid to be a father and bear the responsibility of guiding a life that is not my own and shaping them not into what I want them to be but what God has made them to be. I fear getting to the top of the mountain, and once at the pinnacle, the view is not what I expected to see. I fear giving my best because what if my best is not good enough, and what is more, why does it matter to give one’s best when my end will be found in an expensive box six ft deep in a grave or spread as ashes somewhere across the plains.
Taking this all into consideration, I realize fears reveal to me my humanity and my limits. It points out the uncertainties of living and the unknowns that govern most of life; without fear, I cannot grow past these perceived limitations. Fear is no different than weights that bear down on the body at the gym; it is through resistance that the body grows stronger in resilience and rises past obstacles. Fear, then, is a key that opens the door to courage. Without the reality of fear, how could one ever realize his or her potential? Yet we demonize her.
Man has mistaken fear as an enemy, persecuting her; seeing her as a witch in Salem and crucifying her because of fear itself. What happens when we misunderstand and never acknowledge what we are afraid of internally? We become ignorant, and we paint our fears onto life. One projects what he is afraid of onto the outside world, and everything he does becomes rooted in fear, without realizing it, of course. Look to crucifixions of Christians or Christians crucifying women as witches. It works both ways. But you don’t have to look so far in the past into the Salem witch trials or the persecution of Christians by Nero in the Roman Empire to see what happens when fear is left unchecked. Look no further than today how any opposing view contrary to our own reveals what we are most afraid of — being wrong. Look to the nuclear weapon arms race between America and Soviet Union Russia, each country trying to build more than the other. Look to the greedy man or woman that seeks financial prosperity and to “build generational wealth.” Is it not fear at the helm of this ship? Do they not believe that money can save us and our predecessors? They spend an entire lifetime amassing wealth and power and spend not a second of their time examining their life. My purpose is not to condemn wealth or its pursuits, but what about generational values and virtue? In the end, our descendants suffer because we taught them how to make money, how to spend money, how to balance a checkbook, but nothing about the soul and how to navigate the world when dark times befall and we realize that money is not our savior. What I am saying is that the man or woman not aware of their fears will be governed by them. And the deeper they try to bury fear, the deeper its roots grow, and the more poisonous fruit it will bear. What is worse, the whole time it’ll be outside of awareness.
Fear is needed for the development of courage. Without those ghosts of fear that haunt in the privacy of one’s own mind in the dark hallways and in the cold and chilly rooms where one hears noises that nobody else can, there would be no opportunity for growth. One would grow complacent on the shoreline and never go out into the shallows and farther, into the deeps to see what one can become by investigating what one is afraid of. For example, without acknowledging my fear of rejection, I would never have the courage to say, ‘though I do fear that people will misunderstand me and I will not be accepted, act I will and act I must.” My fears may prove to be false or true, but he who is brave is free. And so, comes courage, not fear’s opposite, but fear’s result when she is engaged directly.
Fear seems adversarial but who are heroes without villains antagonizing them and forcing them to grow? Therefore, who is man without his fears? and is it not the internal strife that a hero or heroine must overcome first before he or she is to defeat the ‘enemy. Fear is a Kung-Fu master waiting to strike at any moment to test us, his pupils, when we least expect. Fear is not an oppressive force and yet, in writing this, ironically, I realize it is oppressive forces that make us stronger and help us overcome perceived limits. Our bones and bodies grow stronger from the gravitational forces of nature pressing us down into the earth, and yet we stand, and as we stand, our legs grow in strength. It keeps our planet in rotation around the sun and keeps us from aimlessly drifting through the dark universe or sucked into the magnetizing pull of the sun, where we would burn. Gravity makes life possible. Yet it is oppressive because it keeps us from being like the hawks of the sky spreading our wings and flying. It tugs on the breasts of women, and as she gets older, her firm bosom hangs loosely to the floor. And yet, who is Michael Jordan without gravity? Or airplanes? Whenever I look into the sky, I see humans flying in the bowels of metal birds. Without Gravity, it wouldn’t be possible. Furthermore, oppressive forces usually thought of as governments, or businesses, or the rich or systems of injustice, or the laws of nature, are not truly what keep us from our potential. It is the oppressive force of neglected and unacknowledged fears that keep us from being the flowers that we are and reaching toward the sun shining down on our potential.
When we lean into fear, we become like an athlete circulating around the track. His heart beats at its threshold, and his legs burn. Still, he persists just beyond his discomfort. When his mind drifts off somewhere else to distract him from the pain, he comes back and leans into his suffering. In doing so, his capacity to handle pain rises. Thus, when a man leans into his fear, like the athlete who continues to run despite the aching of his legs and the burning in his chest, he strengthens his character and cultivates the virtue of courage. It takes a brave soul to be willing to feel. It takes courage to look at these ugly truths. Perhaps that is why the truth hurts, and furthermore, why the truth has been said to set us free. We need the pain.
By being courageous and adknowledging our fears we cultivate the spirit of prudence. I am saying that fear, when balanced with courage, is prudence. Prudence is the ability to think critically about the results of one’s actions in relation to potential consequences. When we exercise the virtue of prudence, we take all of our fears into consideration by acknowledging them. One must practice discerning what fears are practical and what fears are irrational. And yet courage must be checked too. A leader, whether of nations, a business, or simply one who leads himself (for a man who cannot lead himself surely cannot be a leader of men), cannot mistake brashness, recklessness, or foolhardy actions as courage, bravery, or fearlessness. A leader, even if he is only leading himself, must weigh the risks of his actions. He must know his fears, his limits, and yet rise to them. Limits are merely markers of where we are weak.
In facing fear, we grow strong where weakness once existed, and rise to the level of our limits. As we grow stronger, the bar above us inches slowly upward. Our horizons expand, but as we rise and become stronger, so does fear; the master must be stronger than her student. And as I have heard it said before: different levels, different devils. Furthermore, facing what most frightens us is spiritual training preparing us for the worst. Chaos seems to be fated on the horizon of our humanity. Global warfare, famine, economic struggles, social strife, civil division and people hollering “Revolution!” seem to grow day to day. We must be ready for it all, dear reader. And shall we be afraid of fear? No, but to be brave and simply to acknowledge what we are individually and collectively afraid of so as not to be controlled by what we hide from ourselves.