Finding Courage in These Fearful Times
Years ago, Gavin de Becker, the well-known security expert, wrote a book called The Gift of Fear. The focus of the book was on the small voice inside all of us that often serves as a warning about imminent danger. It’s the voice that floats outside our thoughts, that lives in our gut, that whispers to us at unexpected moments — cross the street now, don’t make eye contact with that person, take the next elevator, don’t get in with that person. His point was that fear – intuitive fear that serves as an antenna – is a gift that shouldn’t be ignored. Because most of the time, it’s right.
There is another kind of fear, a more encompassing fear that claims us, that invades our days and haunts our nights. Many of us have become all too familiar with that these days. We look around and we’re scared. What is going to happen to America? To the planet? The latest report is that by 2030, if we don’t take radical steps now, much of this earth will be so ravaged by storms, droughts, floods, it will be uninhabitable. And we have a president who has no intention of taking radical steps to save the planet, who instead says about climate change, “It will change back.” What has happened to our country that we’re now so mired in violence and vitriol it’s become commonplace? No one would have imagined, 10 years ago, that neo-Nazis would flood the streets of our cities, proudly chanting hateful slogans. Or that schools would become war zones, students slaughtered by semi-automatic weapons.
Statistically, stress-related illnesses have risen since November of 2016. Therapists are busier than ever. And parents wonder how to explain this new reality to their kids. There is plenty to be afraid of. If you aren’t frightened right now, you’re either in deep denial, not paying attention, or there is something wrong with you.
So, what do we do with our fear? I think about this often, whenever I feel a deep terror nibbling at me, which happens almost every time I turn on the news.
Whatever our emotions are – fear, anger, sorrow, joy – I believe we have a choice as to what to do with them. Fear can paralyze us if we let it, or it can motivate us to dig deep into ourselves for courage, strength, compassion. The irony about courage is it only makes itself known in the face of fear. We don’t call on courage when everything is fine and the world looks rosy. We search for it when we’re trembling and desperate and feel we’re out of options.
Will we, collectively, have the courage to remember who we are meant to be as a country, as a people, and hold to that even when those in high positions behave like juvenile delinquents? Will we pass on to our children goals that are higher, more meaningful than just “winning” at any cost? Will faith be a lifeline we refuse to let go of? Faith in the better angels of our nature; faith that truth will always, in the end, prevail over lies; faith that if we are guided by our hearts and not our fears new paths will open for us?
Nelson Mandela said, “I learned that courage was not the absence of fear, but the triumph over it. The brave man is not he who does not feel afraid, but he who conquers that fear.”
Conquering fear isn’t about who screams the loudest or who can be the meanest. Courage is, more often than not, a quiet decision made deep in the soul. It’s the calm voice cutting through chaos. It’s eyes that don’t look away but look through – to a place past the darkness, past the anger, to who we were meant to be when God put us here.
Patti Davis is the author of 11 books, including the new book “The Earth Breaks in Colors.” She is the daughter of President Ronald Reagan and Nancy Reagan.
This essay was featured in the Oct. 21st edition of The Sunday Paper, Maria Shriver’s free weekly newsletter for people with passion and purpose. To get inspiring and informative content like this piece delivered straight to your inbox each Sunday morning, click here to subscribe.