We Have Nothing to Fear but Fear Itself, or Do We…

The profoundness of Roosevelt’s timeless address to the American people during his inaugural speech first sank in during an elementary school history class.  Imagine, sitting there as a kid thinking, the only thing I have to “fear” is “fear” itself!  Wow, you know what this means? Ok I can see you might need a little nudge here, as what this really means is you and I have a choice!  Yes that’s right we can choose to be afraid or not!  If that isn’t a powerful enough message I don’t know what is!  For clarity here I am not trying to play psychologist as neither am I one, nor have I ever played one on TV.  However what I share here is personal perspective and life coaching from a leadership point of view.

So you say “fear” is a “choice”, as I can choose to feel this way or not?  Yes I do and for proof I live my life that way.  To help explain a bit better, before coming to this realization, I will say I was horrified of heights. Tall buildings, glass elevators, you name it as I moved skyward the fight or flight response would kick in.  However today I can share with you pictures taken from an open cabin helicopter with me hanging over the side, or there’s the ones taken though the glass floor of the CN tower some 1,122 feet above the ground and so on.  Now you might be asking how did you do this then if you’re afraid of heights?  In a way the answer is simple, I made my “fear” a “choice” rather than an “absolute”.  You may also ask, when I did these things was it without feeling for the event?  The straight forward answer is that each and every one had some form of discomfort with taking on the challenge.  The difference became one of “achievement” over “comfort” thus “choice” over “irrational control”.  Also there are times where I have selected “comfort” over “discomfort” when it has come to heights as one example is rock climbing. Unlike the helicopter example (which I’ve done many times), the thrill of rock climbing did not bring with it the motivation to overcome the “discomfort“, thus it became a choice.

If you notice there is a term in the last paragraph, and that is “discomfort” as we humans can do just about anything however our “comfort” level typically determines our actions.  As if we are not comfortable with something we are less likely to do that something which may need to be done.  Also it should be noted I am not a fan of “climbing a mountain just because it’s there“. For me there needs to be a reason and for a mountain climber it maybe the fact they wish to achieve something no one else has which is great, however in the end it is “something” and not “just because it’s there“.

Ok, some of you reading this still might not be getting the full concept, so let’s distill it down even further as I also had too.  To do this let’s once again use the example of heights and by the way like other humans I also have other “discomforts” like spiders, snakes and so on.  However back to making heights a “choice” rather than a “fear”.  To start with I rationalized back to what would happen if I fell off a tall building, the answer was die.  I then rationalized that I was mortal and would die anyway so what was the difference?  While a stark statement it is a fact, also if we relate all fears back to their roots we will typically discover they lay within the concepts of our own mortality.  This fact in itself is the absolute of the choice if you will.

Now that we’ve defined the absolute (i.e. mortality), what then comes in the middle?  Well first why even talk about the “middle”, well the analogy I like to use is the same as the one I use for discussing the helmet law with motorcyclists.  As while I am personally pro-motorcyclist in general what drives me crazy is listening to folks claim their “freedom to choose” to wear a helmet or not is theirs as their mortality is their choice. This makes a lot of sense and even fits in the topic above until you look at the statistics, the majority of riders involved in a motorcycle accident do not die, but suffer “closed head injuries” and become a burden on society as we the tax payers now have to pay the costs to house you, feed you, and provide 24 hour medical care.  The retort to this fact which I just love is typically “well pull the plug“, ya right like that’s going to happen, also glad you think that much of your loved one to give them the lasting memories  of you drawing your last breath as they pop the cord from the wall for your ventilator, nice, real nice.  Oh and by the way that is illegal here too.

So now it becomes clearer why the middle is so important, let’s go back to my decision about rock climbing to help explain the logic.  Here much like the scenario above, I look at the middle ground for “reasoning”, as if I fall while rock climbing, I most likely will not die (at least at the location I was thinking about doing it at), however I could become severely injured which then leave would make me burden upon my loving wife for the rest of your years.  Was that something I wanted to do to her? Remember love means you care about another more then you care about yourself.  In my case, it wasn’t worth overcoming the “discomfort” along with assuming the risk posed by the middle ground.  Now I am not trying to say we should rationalize “all” risk way as that would be impossible as well as lead to a shallow life.  As for example, if you would call and say I have an opening on the Space Shuttle do you want to go, the answer would be yes in less than a heartbeat.  This would be the case even with two major accidents within the platforms life which is a lot for NASA.  However the risk to rewards involved here are related to the absolutes rather than the middle which play out in this scenario, as if the space shuttle is going down it’s a one way ride. Here I have life insurance which by the way is the only insurance we know will have to payout for sure, and while I love my wife with my whole heart.  There is a primordial drive to glimpse the edge of creation, well that is quite another thing.

However the point here is these are all “choices”, whereas “fear” is not “dictating” my actions, as “fear” is now only an influencing factor and influences can be managed and rationalized logically.  Whereas “fear” by it’s own nature is part of our fundamental “fight or flight” response system which is critical for our own survival.  We would not want to do away with it all together as this would place us at undue risk.  However over emphasizing the “discomfort” does no good either, so it is as with most things where the middle of the road approach yields the best overall results in allowing us to achieve a full filling life while playing to the next level…

About Joseph Campbell

As a strong believer in the fact that "people work for people", it has been a life driver to better to understand the complexities of the various aspects which drive efficiency within this axiom, especially the concepts of leadership. Supporting this, I have been fortunate enough to having experienced this as leader on a global basis over the last decade and half. During this time it has been clear there are three core drivers being Life, Leadership and Economics.
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