“Each person bears a fear which is special to him. One man fears a close space and another man fears drowning; each laughs at the other and calls him stupid. Thus fear is only a preference, to be counted the same as the preference for one woman or another, or mutton for pig, or cabbage for onion.” Michael Crichton, the best selling science fiction author wrote in his gripping novel “Eaters of the Dead”.
Heart thumping frantically, blood rushing like a poisoned torrent in the veins, hands and feet going numb and the mind paralyzed, fear causes forceful reactions in the best of us. In fact, it is so powerful and efficient that it has been successfully used as a tool of control by religions, parents, schools, prisons and anyone who wants another to obey.
However, the best decisions, the true decisions and the noble decisions are best made in the absence of fear, and in the presence of truth, justice and love. But fear is always lurking around the corner, waiting to jump in and startle the best of us. How do we ensure that our actions and decisions are not made in its wake?
Shapes of fear by Maynard Dixon
One person who was threatened tremendously by fear but managed to triumph over it, was James Bond Stockdale, a much cooler real life hero than his fictional namesake the British Secret Service agent. He was a United States Navy Vice Admiral who served in the Vietnam War and was captured and held as a Prison of War in the Hoa Lo Prison for seven and a half years, four out of which were spent in solitary confinement. Stockdale was routinely tortured and beaten up. When his captors wanted to use him for propaganda, he slit his scalp and wrists and beat his face up to disfigure himself so that they could not do that. When he was released, his shoulders had been wrenched from their sockets, his leg shattered and back broken by torture, but he was unbroken and whole as a man. He faced the furnace in the prison not only without giving away any State secrets, but also led the resistance activities of his fellow prisoners. So how did he manage this superhuman feat?
James Bond Stockdale from wikipedia.org
He writes in a paper published in the “Center for the Study of Professional Military Ethics”, “I had learnt that fear and guilt are the real pincers that break men’s wills. I would chant under my breath as I was marched to interrogation, knowing that I must refuse to comply, and take the ropes: “Your eyes must show no fear; they must show no guilt…Their threats had no meaning unless you felt fear“
He further adds on how to conquer this debilitating and monstrous emotion, “..Fear is not something that danger forces on you. When you find yourself afraid, it’s time you realized that you decided, wanted, willed that you fear…Refuse to want to fear..”
“If you want to protect yourself from “fear and guilt” – and those are the crucial pincers, the real long term destroyers of will – you have to get rid of all your instincts to compromise, to meet people halfway. You have to learn to stand aloof, never give openings for deals, never level with your adversaries.”