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Fear and "Fearless"ness

by Natasha Theobald

What is fear? Is it the excited, nauseous feeling you get in a slasher movie? Is it the jump at a bump in the night? Or, is fear something deeper, more innate? Is fear the conditioned physical and emotional quick response to a sudden jolt of some stimulus, or is it that which lives in the pit of our stomach and informs our day to day lives? Perhaps, it is all of this and more. Fear seems to be a lot like love, actually. It is one of those things that eludes easy description. It is hard to corner it long enough to know it too terribly well. We recognize our own fear in fits and starts. It lays dormant, just beneath our radar, until something, even the smallest thing, happens. It lives with us, and we must learn to live well with it.

In The Mirror of Light, Rodney Collin discusses the hold that fear has on people. "The most powerful projection and terrible force in the world is fear. It compels men to seek happiness, develop civilizations, and start wars. Fear is behind all the irrationality and chaotic emotions that dog mankind." So, is this it? Is fear our tormentor, the devil on our shoulder telling us to do the things that we should not do? Does it haunt us, even in quiet moments, waking the beast of our worst natures and guiding it through the tunnels of our darkest, most secret places? Without fear, would there be no war? Perhaps no one thing can be blamed for the chaos, and I would argue that fear is more than a mere emotion.

It seems, in some ways, that fear is more concrete than simple feelings, almost tangible, palpable, as though, unlike emotion, it can exist without our agency. It is, indeed, a powerful force and certain motivator, but can fear be blamed for all of our irrationality? What about anger? What about pride? Of course, it could be argued that anger and pride are, in fact, an outgrowth of fear. If we delve into our angriest or most prideful responses, perhaps it would be fear behind it all, pulling the strings, playing the game. Are we not angry because we are scared? Think about the last time you were really pissed off, and ask yourself, buried beneath the bluster and bravado, if fear didn't play some small, yet significant, role.

My last angry outburst was the result of being made to wait an unreasonably long time to get the favor that someone had promised me. My husband said he would look at my car and take it to the mechanic, if necessary. Two weeks later, it was still sitting in the garage, waiting for him to notice it. Is it possible that my anger was part fear? Without realizing, was I somehow attaching his inattention to my car as a deeper-seated inattention to me? Was I being motivated by some irrational fear that if he didn't take care of my need that he didn't love me enough? As ridiculous as the whole thing sounds, I'm not sure I could deny it outright. Of course, when I was loudly discussing it with him, that thought did not cross my mind. I just wanted to be able to leave the house without the car blowing up or breaking down. Perhaps fear is the primary motivator of war, and all angry altercations. You can look for it, but it is sneaky, slithering around us almost silently until we are fully wrapped up in its grasp, being gradually choked, certainly held, until we act out to release it.

If fear is such a bad thing, then, maybe we should just try to get rid of it. How free our lives might be without fear taking us down the worn and weary path of anger, frustration, or hate. Maybe we should do our best to eradicate fear in every facet of our lives, defy it on the grounds that we will not serve at the pleasure of such a devious master. With no fear, there would be only love and peace and harmony, right? I mean, you would have to get everyone on board, because if fear motivates even one person to acts of hate, then the rest of us have something to fear. But, that shouldn't be too hard, right? We could certainly get everyone to agree that a world without fear is preferable to a world which seems to be dominated by it, openly and convincingly. Utopia, though, would have to be built one person at a time. It would take the courage of some to start us off, get the ball rolling in the right direction. Let's do it! What would life be like without fear?

"Fearless" is a movie that answers that question in a most unique story of circumstance. While countless people list among their fears the fear of flying, or rather crashing, perhaps it would be even more terrifying to survive such a horrific calamity. Of course, you would escape with your life, but can it ever be the life that you knew? Will there be anything familiar left to you when the world has come crashing in on you upside down? The film's protagonist, Max, played with vivacity and grace by Jeff Bridges, faces such an experience head on, without fear. He is among the survivors of a plane crash, a hero, in fact, who helps save countless others from the fire that follows. He sees death coming for him and shrugs it off. He is without fear at one of the most extreme and harrowing moments that life could bring him, and any traces of that fearful instinct are left behind with the wreckage.

What is life like without fear? For Max, there is some dancing on ledges and eating of foods to which he is deathly allergic. His fearlessness is a source of great fear and anguish for those who love him but no longer seem to know him, the person he is now. The new Max is a reluctant hero, one who is able to save others, to allay the guilt and fears of a mother whose son was lost, a rock for those left adrift by the same event which strengthened him. The problem, though, is that Max is dancing on the ledge alone. Fearlessness, in the end, is lonely, isolating, and much less gratifying than allowing oneself to be cradled in the full spectrum of flawed human emotion and fear.

Perhaps, then, security expert and author Gavin de Becker is right when he asserts, in the aptly titled The Gift of Fear, that fear is a gift, a grace, a guidance through a potentially perilous world. Problems arise only when individuals allow themselves to live in a state of constant fear, when they are unable to distinguish between imminent danger and the overall fear of danger. According to de Becker, letting intuition decide for us whether fear is warranted is the best method for keeping it in check until it is truly needed. If we are able to listen to whatever inner knowledge we have, whether we are conscious of the hows and the whys of it, then we can live as perceptive, yet less fearful, beings. If we choose to use fear in balance with intellect and intuition, it can be a source of strength without Max's brand of danger.

Maybe becoming familiar with fear, learning to live well with it, is the answer. If some semblance of fear allows us to navigate our lives with more security and balance, perhaps it is not a lurking evil, driving us only to war and chaos. Maybe learning to use it, instead of being used by it, is the key. I don't pretend to have any answers, but I do think it never hurts to ask the questions. Maybe simply asking oneself the question is enough. "What do I fear and why?" Knowing the true answer may let loose the hold fear has on you and set you free to face another day with less burden, anxiety, or fear, with more freedom, love, and hope.


link directly to this feature at http://www.efilmcritic.com/feature.php?feature=790
originally posted: 09/16/03 02:08:31
last updated: 05/06/05 07:17:23
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