“Courage is knowing what not to fear.” ~ Plato
Fear is something I never take or talk about lightly. And I am mindful of the tyranny inherent in the categories we have for it: the rational and the irrational, the real and the imagined, the healthy and the unhealthy…etc. Yes, these categories are intended to offer clarity and assist with healing, but all too often end up creating more problems than they solve.
I must confess however that the older I get, the more I know of life and see of our world, the less patience I have for certain fears. And it’s not a matter of judging them rational or irrational, real or imagined…but a matter of, I believe, taking a more humble look at what’s available, and then weighing the positives and negatives from a perspective of gratitude.
Yes, we’re all afraid of the bad things and the good things and the things in between. It’s unfair and ridiculous to start comparing experiences or judge each other in order to establish or remove the legitimacy of whatever it is that creates fear in us. But at the same time, it seems to me none of us can afford to live without drawing a line somewhere, even though in principle, it remains an eternally debatable and arbitrary line.
What I mean is that we can’t possibly fear losing a job for example in the same way we might, for whatever reason, fear going into a great restaurant and enjoying a complimentary meal we won in a raffle. A bad situation is a bad situation…a good one is a good one. That doesn’t mean it’s always so cut and dry, or that we’re not entitled to be afraid in both cases. But it also doesn’t mean that we can just ignore the issue and rationalize our way out of putting in the effort required for healing and change when something good and with great potential lands in our laps.
I remember the stories my mom used to tell me, and still sometimes does, about her childhood and youth…war, struggle, living as a refugee in hiding, practically starving for years. I would sometimes get upset with her for what I interpreted as her lack of compassion towards me when I complained about my own fears in life. She didn’t seem to understand how I could be afraid of ‘the good things’. So I asked her how come growing up, or even later in life, she wasn’t afraid of ‘the good things’ in the same way I was and saw others were too.
Her answer was very simple: “When you know much misery, danger and loss and something even remotely positive comes along, you don’t have the luxury of doubt or hesitation. You cross your fingers, thank the gods for your blessing, and take whatever it is with gratitude, looking to make the best of it.”
She was right. And anyone who takes a moment to look and see the world we live in, will recognize how much suffering, loneliness and lack of opportunity there still is all around us. Once we have even the slightest level of awareness, we can’t possibly, in good conscience, allow our fear of ‘the good things’ to dictate our choices and seal our surrender.
At any given moment, there are thousands…tens of thousands, hundreds of thousands if not millions of people who would give anything for most of the ‘good things’ we fear…for another day of living, for a chance at trying something, for someone to truly love who will love them back just as much, for someone to genuinely care for and connect with, for a healthy child, a loving pet, a patch of garden, a place to call home, even a bit of money for food or a small gift.
And so we simply have to, as difficult as it is sometimes, draw the line and do whatever it takes to overcome fears that relate to connection, to commitment, to love, to success in our relationships, work or education. If we don’t, we’re literally stealing wellness from our own lives. And that is a crime…an insult to ourselves, to life, to those less fortunate.
Plato was so right. Our life experiences and increased awareness eventually start (or should start) to reveal what we shouldn’t fear even if we initially do, even if we’ve been hurt in our past. And courage is not this monumental act or state of being reserved for heroes. It is simply that moment when we draw a line, forget about finding an absolute, perfect answer or certainty, and reclaim our lives, our joy, our future.