Friday, August 24, 2012

Fear Cuts Deeper Than Swords-A Game of Thrones

If you've been around the blog for a while you know that I am an A Song of Ice and Fire/Game of Thrones fanatic.
This post's title is a mantra which Arya Stark was taught by her fencing instructor Syrio Forel. Unfortunately she has reason to take it to heart and live by it as she must endure experiences which might scar a grown man, let alone a nine year old girl. But things are what they are. I really like the phrase "Fear cuts deeper than swords" because it has a meaning which definitely rings true in my life. I bet at least once it may have been true in yours as well.

The Storyteller recently did a great post about fear being used by both sides to influence the upcoming election. Fear is a useful emotion. It tells us that we don't know what's going to happen next and we have to be careful. It may sharpen our senses and make us very alert to our surroundings and events taking place therein. If you happen to work with mobsters or you are followed by hoodlums or you are forced to consider heart surgery or you are stopped in the "wrong neighborhood" by a police officer with a bad attitude or you are trapped on a sinking ship that is surrounded by sharks then fear is a completely rational response. Fear in those situations can help keep you and yours alive. For most of us that's more important than anything else. Someone who claims to be fearless is usually someone who is lying through his teeth, doesn't have much relevant information about the situation he's in, or no longer cares if he lives or dies. So in that aspect a little fear can bring much needed rationality and clarity to a situation. We all have fear. We all need fear. Believe that.

But on the other hand, fear has a very negative side as well. Fear pops up in situations that aren't life and death. Fear can arise when you think about doing something out of your comfort zone that you haven't done before. Fear can arise when you have to stand up to a boss and tell that person that they are full of it and if they don't like what you said that's too freaking bad. Fear can arise when you want to make that move on someone you've had your eye on for a while but you immediately start to think of all of the reasons why s/he wouldn't give you the time of day. Fear also has some negative physical impacts. Being in continual fight-or-flight mode can contribute to such problems as hypertension and sleep deprivation, not to mention heart disease and other ailments. And a fearful person may lash out at other people for no good reason, even those or especially those that remind them of themselves. Ultimately if you constantly live in fear of doing new things, of taking chances or risks, of growing up, of confronting problems or bad people in your life, you end up in a state of paralysis, unable to move forward and mature. You can become stagnant and trapped in rationalizations of your own failings. You may congratulate yourself for avoiding the risks of talking action but on the other hand you never get to enjoy the rewards of growth. You may watch with envy and confusion as other people move past you by whatever standard has meaning to you.

This can be quite painful for some people's egos of course so rather than examine and confront the reasons why they are afraid they will often pretend that the rewards of change and growth aren't really what they are cracked up to be. They tell themselves that they could have chosen to be more successful but they made a deliberate decision not to do so. Some folks even go further and suggest that this somehow makes them a better, more moral person, than the individual who dealt with their fears and worries and went ahead to take chances. If you happen to know people like this it can be both sad and infuriating at the same time because they've convinced themselves not only that deliberately throwing away their full human potential is a practical thing to do but also that it's a good thing to do and they are better than you for doing so. In the worst cases you have someone who is smugly and perversely proud to have made nothing of his life or natural talents. That indeed does wound the person deeper than a physical attack would have done. It's often extremely difficult for someone to come back from a fear that has consumed their self-worth. That sort of damage can take years to repair.

It is of course much easier to surmount your fears if you have a supportive family and/or especially a significant other or if you've been trained from birth to acknowledge your fears but proceed with your plans and dreams anyway. The other method in which some people confront their fears and to paraphrase George Clinton, "rise above it all or drown in their own s***" , is to be forced into a position in which there is literally no choice but to take action. There is a phrase that a hero isn't anything but a coward that got cornered. There is something to that. Whether it's the fictional Batman descending into a cave to deal with his fears of bats and darkness or the very real parents who at some point place their child in the deep end of the pool and urge him to swim or tell the bullied child that if he doesn't go back and confront the bully he'll have a worse problem at home, sometimes a shock to the system can shake things up. The person then realizes that the fear that he had was preventing him from going to the next level of accomplishment. Fear is just a message that you are sending to yourself. There is no shame in fear. There is shame in letting fears define or limit you. Winter is coming for us all whether we like it or not. We do ourselves or our loved ones no favors by not living life to its fullest.
Bran Stark: Can a man still be brave when he is afraid?
Ned Stark: That is the only time a man can be brave.


How have you overcome fears in your life?

What have your fears taught you about yourself?

Has fear ever helped you in a bad situation?

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