Suppressing fear brings out the cowardice in us all
While this essay is about courage, I begin with fear because, without it, courage cannot exist. Fear, a universal emotion that has been vital for human survival, is uncomfortable; troubling. But when we suppress or deny it, some of the worst outcomes imaginable follow as a result.
Starting in the mid-2000s in the US, where I lived, I began to see large decals in the windows of cars and trucks which read “No Fear.” At the time, it struck me that perhaps the intended message was “Courage.”
Francophones instantly connect courage, spelled the same in both languages, and Coeur, French for heart. By definition, courage is heartfelt, right action taken in the face of fear. If you don’t feel scared, you can’t be brave. Think about it.
We know the opposite of bravery is cowardice. Cowardly acts are those done without fear of immediate penalty and are disconnected from Coeur. The man who abuses his wife; the lynch mob; the lawmaker enacting bills unfair to underrepresented groups; the bully who terrorizes the defenceless – these are perfect, if odious, exemplars of craven cowards. This is “No Fear” at work.
Regrettably, for civil societies everywhere, there are far too many people who seldom experience fear, for they have anesthetized it through hatred and blame. Instead of being brave enough to acknowledge their fear and interrogate it, they numb it by trading fear for hatred. This produced the Third Reich and savage anti- Black racism in the southern US. It’s what still begets myriad less-notable cases of sexism, racism, and other forms of spineless, gutless violence against the less-powerful, every day.
The Dalai Lama says, “Kindness is the new radicalism.” Too often equated with weakness, kindness, in fact, takes immense courage. Vulnerability, which goes hand-in-hand with kindness, demands utmost bravery as well. In the right context, admitting a character flaw or sharing a hidden trauma is very courageous. Vulnerability has transformed seemingly intractable conflicts and healed relationships rent by old wounds.
But kindness and vulnerability come with risks. Risks naturally make us afraid. All the same, let’s commit more courageous deeds in 2022. Let’s speak openly against injustice where we see it and reach out as appropriate, even when it could cost us.
Above all, let’s find the courage to admit our fears and seek their origins, so we don’t succumb to the insidious siren-call of projecting hatred outward rather than addressing internal fear.