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On Being Afraid

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On Being Afraid

I have always been afraid. It is a painful feeling, fear. It sits down in the bottom part of the belly and hurts. But it is the energy of survival. I have always been afraid of fear and at the same time grateful for it–afraid of its pain and grateful that because of the pain I can take steps to eradicate it by overcoming that which frightens me.

One who is afraid reacts to it as any animal. If one is a rabbit, one runs into one’s hole and hides. If one is a turtle one pulls back into one’s shell. We have all known people who react to their fear in this fashion. Some call them shy. Some, wrongfully, call them cowards. Never reach your hand down into a rabbit’s hole and try to pull the rabbit out. You will only extract a bloody finger.

But some people, me included, react to fear as a lion reacts. We get angry. It is easier to be angry than to be afraid. It is less painful. The frightened lion attacks whatever frightens him. So does the grizzly. So do I. But it is fear, nevertheless, that motivates the attack. And our fear generates fear in others which may not always be what we had hoped for.

Fear has been given to us so that we may recognize that which endangers us in this complex world. To avoid injury of one kind or another we need to recognize the danger, whatever it may be. Fear permits us to ask ourselves: what are we afraid of and to evaluate it. It gives us an opportunity to say to ourselves, we don’t need to be afraid of this person or that job. It is something we can handle. It gives us an opportunity to understand that the other person may be as afraid of us as we are afraid of them. It gives us a chance to deal with our fear. Are we afraid for our health? Whatever our fear, is it justified? If it is, we must listen and take appropriate steps.

In the end, fear is a gift. The small, two-point buck is not afraid. But he is the one who usually ends up in the back of the hunter’s pickup truck while the old buck with the magnificent horns and the lordly stance is the first to bolt and run when he hears the crack of the hunter’s foot on a twig.

Fear is also the stuff of courage. We cannot be brave without fear. One who faces unreasonable danger is not courageous unless that person has first felt fear and overcome it. He is only foolish. I know of no persons who are brave who are not first afraid. So, at last, fear is our friend. Listen to it. It speaks loudly to us. It is not to be ignored. It is to be cherished as our protective partner.

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