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February 10 2014

Fear. How Much It Really Doesn't Matter

Fear is overrated. In fact, fear is a punk. 

Yet, nothing devastates the spirit, dreams and aspirations, more than our unreasonable fears.

We all experience fear. Myself included. My biggest fear is tied to being -- or ending up poor. Why? Because I was homeless for six months of my life when I was 18 years old in Los Angeles. I can tell precisely where, and when. It’s not really reasonable to believe, at this point in my life, that I would now somehow experience true financial, or even social or spiritual poverty. But emotions -- and our fears -- are not rational. And that’s the real point.

Fear, feeds on our emotional and spiritual weakness. Our lack of faith, in something larger and more important than ourselves.

Some so-called tough guys will tell you that they don’t experience fear, but they are all either lying, or they are legitimately insane. Disconnected from our reality. There are good reasonsto have reasonable fears in this life. A bear chasing you in the wilderness, for example, is often reason enough. You may not respond in fear, but that doesn’t mean you weren’t experiencing any.

Most of us are so utterly destabilized by fear, that we cannot even tell you what we fear the most. It’s just too terrifying.

Ask the average person (or even yourself) and the answers would be mostly predictable, and wrong. Death, taxes, job loss, poverty, personal rejection, embarrassment, public speaking, and so on. But these answers are all wrong. 

The real answer, for what we fear the most, was best articulated by my friend, fellow Global Dignity co-founder and world renown philosopher, Professor Pekka Himanen, who said, “the thing we fear the most, is ourselves.” Boom. 

Healthy vs. an unhealthy fear

Reasonable levels of fear will actually keep you generally safe, and away from life threatening dangers. Reasonable fears can serve as a powerful motivator in business, and your professional success too (reasonable levels of insecurity actually drives one to excel).

But I am not talking about the otherwise healthy version of fear. I am not talking about the fear of crossing a busy intersection in Manhattan, which is a reasonable and understandable fear. Or the one associated with cycling on a busy main street. 

I am talking about the ‘crossing imagined bridges ahead of time,’ kinds of fear.

I am talking about the version that normally inhabits our daily lives; the unhealthy kind. 

I’m talking about the kind of fear that overwhelms our very being, whenever professionally stressed, financially pressed, emotionally charged, or spiritually challenged. 

I am talking about the fear that causes us to stop dreaming, or fully breathing even. It’s stops us from living too. 

The sort of unarticulated fear that causes otherwise good people to look away, during the horrors against Jews in the Nazis Germany of 1940. Or the sort of articulated fear that fanned the flames of socially accepted racism and discrimination, in the American South of the 1950’s, and 1960’s. Or the one that today, refuses to allow our so-called leaders to engage in a civil disagreement around things that matter. To disagree, without being disagreeable.

And then there is the more pedestrian version of unhealthy fear. Like the one that causes otherwise normal and seemingly balanced adults to suspect optimism as some sort of slicked-over scam game. The sort of fear that causes us to first assume an unhealthy cynicism, in response to the introduction of a new, big idea, rather than a healthy skepticism

The good news is ~ everything else that matters in life.

The good news is that this unhealthy fear is mostly in our own heads. It can be eradicated. Returning a winning, whole life-optimism in its place. 

There is no basic difference in the brilliance of a Dr. King, a Nelson Mandela, a Gandhi, a Mother Teresa or a Michael Collins (Ireland), from the brilliance of an Adolf Hitler, a Stalin, a Bull Connor (from the South). They were all genius in some way, they all had charismatic, they could all compel you, and they all had a following. They all changed the world, so to speak. 

The difference is, one group lit a candle in life, and the other cursed the darkness. One group you remember admirably, for all the ages, and one group you do not, save lessons in history (and for what not to do). Hope always wins. 

As theologian C.S. Lewis said, “all badness is, is failed goodness." 

Darkness has no definition, without light. 

The best example of the structural weaknesses of fear, is actually Biblical. 

For those who are Believers, I would say that Lucifer (otherwise known as the Devil) is a punk, and fear is his principal agency. He feeds on it, because he has no legitimate product to sell. 

I say this factually and here in the business context, because Lucifer literally has no power, except for the power that God gives him. Lucifer is nothing more than a fallen angel. Translation: God even gives evil permission to exist. Without light, darkness has no value. 

And so, the dude who supposedly is the top shelf fear-broker, Lucifer, is himself a sort of empty hat. The so-called emperor with no clothes. 

The way we overcome our fear is simple: courage. In my last book LOVE LEADERSHIP: The New Way to Lead In A Fear-Based World (Jossey-Bass), I define courage as "nothing more than your faith, reaching through your fear, displaying itself as action in your life."

If you had ‘thought’ about running out into the street to save that young child from an oncoming car, most of us would not have actually done it. But we didn’t think about it, we acted instead. And it was this something deep within us — all of us -- that seemed to unconsciously move us to act (before thought or intellectual processes). This core, unconsciousness, is the real you. 

It is the you of birth, before the you we acquire, accept, or worse, give into over time; in our so-called adulthood. 

It is your light, before the darkness comes in. 

It is the reason I have sustained a continuos and ongoing hope in and for this world. And for you and me. 

We are built for good, for nobleness and love, for care and compassion, for empathy and philanthropy, for service of something larger and more important than ourselves. 

We are built to give dignity, because we actually want it in return. 

As they say in South Africa -- Ubuntu. "I am me, because you are you."

We break out of our own fears, when we focus on a new life goal. The light, up there on the hill in our lives. 

Let's regain our inspiration and hope for life. Our new found courage.

And let us banish unreasonable and unhealthy fear.

After all — fear really is a punk.

John Hope Bryant is the founder, chairman and CEO of Operation HOPE and Bryant Group Companies, Inc. Magazine/CEO READ bestselling business author of LOVE LEADERSHIP: The New Way to Lead in a Fear-Based World (Jossey-Bass), and is the only 2010-2012 bestselling business author in America who is also African-American. His newest book, due out May, 2014, is HOW THE POOR CAN SAVE CAPITALISM, and will be published byBerrett Koehler Publishing).

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Photo: Sam UL, Flickr Commons