"We fear all evils, e.g. disgrace, poverty, disease, friendlessness, death, but the brave man is not thought to be concerned with all; for to fear some things is even right and noble, and it is base not to fear them- e.g. disgrace; one who fears this is good and modest, and one who does not is shameless…
The one who faces and who fears the right things and from the right motive, in the right way and from the right time, and who feels confidence under the corresponding conditions, is brave; for the brave man feels and acts according to the merits of the case… “
-Aristotle, The Nicomachean Ethics Book III
Fear is such a pejorative term. Nobody wants to be held within the confines of fear, and yet I think we all recognize that it has such a powerful influence in the sphere of human decision-making. If we’re honest with ourselves, then it shouldn’t be hard to see how it influences our own actions.
What would it be like to live a life completely devoid of fear?
If I were to speak for myself, I should say that this life would be very short. Most likely it would end with the crackling sound of a helmet on pavement.
As a motorcyclist I often have to come to terms with the question How can you justify riding a motorcycle when it is so dangerous? Of course the standard response often suffices: How could I justify living my life in fear? But this gives the impression that the decision to ride is a decision to be fearless, which it isn’t.
Again, perhaps I should just speak for myself. I find that riding still scares me… sometimes a lot. There are days where, while riding, I am suddenly gripped by an inexplicable fear—that something might go wrong, that this might be the stretch of road that does me in. Other times I just get scared when I’m surrounded by traffic, or when things get dicey and I have a passenger on the back. This fear is healthy, I think. It is perfectly reasonable and it is impossible to deny. This fear also keeps me on my toes. It has pushed me to wear a jacket when it seems inconvenient, or to slow down through a curve when I know I can probably take it a little faster. I want to embrace this fear. It keeps me alive and it keeps me well.
What then is the sort of fear that I don’t want to embrace? The kind that I’ve spent so much time writing about?
It’s the kind of fear that is not at the forefront of anyone’s mind, rather it is so normal we’ve become accustomed to its influence. The kind of fear which keeps you content with dead ends because “the pursuit of what you really want is worth delaying for one more day of security”… day after day after day… It masks itself as laziness, it feeds voraciously on avoidance, and it emerges as unrelenting anxiety.
To strive to be fearless is foolish. I know that throughout my life there are going to be times when I am deathly afraid. So when I read Aristotle I feel prompted to ask: When I am afraid, will I react in a way that flows from my true character, or will I simply aim to avoid pain and hardship?