The Upside of Fear

July 30, 2010

There can be no courage without fear.
–Jimmy Wofford, Olympic rider and coach

I think about fear quite a bit, possibly because I am afraid of—or at least intimidated by—many things. You name it, I’m afraid of it: pain, death, economic collapse, failure, success, change, no more cranberry orange scones at the grocery store, etc. It wears me out, having to gear myself up to face so many things. Lately I’ve been thinking, wouldn’t it be great if I wasn’t afraid of anything? It sounds wonderful on the surface, but…

Fear can be good.

That’s right. Fear can be good. Here’s why:

Fear makes you more compassionate. If you’re never afraid, you’ll find it hard to impossible to understand and empathize with those of us who are. From lack of understanding and empathy, it’s only a step or two towards contempt or belittling others. If you’ve been afraid and conquered your fears, you can offer kindness and encouragement to others. I’m much more likely to listen to someone who’s felt the way I do and worked through it, than I am to someone who can’t understand why I’d be afraid of that.

I’m certainly not saying we shouldn’t try to overcome our fears. We’d never learn or grow if we always remained safely ensconced in our comfort zones. I am saying that we shouldn’t come down too hard on ourselves or others if and when we’re afraid. Instead, offer kindness to ourselves, and gentleness and understanding to others. Then perhaps we can all walk courageously forward together.

Fear makes us feel our humanity.
–Benjamin Disraeli

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  1. Great post! Love that first quote. Kind of one of my "truths" if you will. As to fear, it's there for a reason. It has something to show up, to teach us about ourselves and about others.

  2. Hmmm, that was suppose to say "show us" not "show up!" Dyslexic fingers!!

  3. Very interesting post Kathy. I'd certainly not thought much about the good side of fear. I love that first quote too.

  4. Nicely written, Kathy. I can certainly see the "positive" side to fear, as a motivator and as a source of empathy. But as a person who's suffered from anxiety, I can say with confidence that all too often our fears are debilitating and irrational, and especially so for creative types. Darn those overactive imaginations. ;)

    Your mention of empathy did remind me of something I do whenever I get nervous meeting new people: stop and say to myself, "Everyone in this room is afraid of something." Often, if I get present enough, I can even see fear lurking in the other person's eyes -- and then, weirdly enough, I feel as comfy as though we were friends from old. I guess because then I recognize myself in them.

  5. An intriguing post, Kathy - love both of those quotes and enjoyed the thoughtful responses. Once again you've provided the "aha" moment that stays with me throughout the day. Thanks! :)

  6. Hi Kathy,

    I really like how you addressed fear in this post and I understand what you are saying about using our pasts to encourage others in the present.

    The world has some pretty scary stuff going on in it right now, and I have been using my fear of what "might" happen to prepare for the future practically. Hope for the best and prepare for the worst ...without going overboard. Talk about a tough balancing act.

    When I begin to panic, I buy more rice and beans, canning jars and toilet paper!

    You have given me a great idea for my own blog post. Have a wonderful weekend, and remember: "Fear not, for I am with you says the Lord."

  7. Thanks, Laure--I was pleasantly surprised at all the positive response to this post. As a society, we seem to be all about conquering fear and charging forward. Guess I should have know my sensitive and articulate blog friends would "get" the post.

  8. Cheryl--I love that quote, too. I have it on a 3x5 card on my desk to encourage myself!

  9. Meredith--I certainly agree that fear can be debilitating--and I've experienced that personally. I think your trick is a great one--it reminds us we're all in this together. I find that I am most brave when I am with someone else who is a little afraid (as opposed to terrified). It encourages me to hold it together for the both of us.

  10. Kathy--I love this: "When I begin to panic, I buy more rice and beans, canning jars and toilet paper!" Great attitude and philosophy--prepare for the worst, but hope for the best. Hope you have a great weekend, too.

  11. Elizabeth--glad you enjoyed the post and the responses. I love hearing from all of you and absorbing your ideas, too.

  12. Oh goodness that was beautiful and so true. Read about my day and you will see fear is a major part of my life. You write about it so well.

  13. Thank you, Carrie. At least we can empathize with each other, and that somehow makes things a little easier.