A year ago Tuesday, the Times published an article on the science of courage. And roughly half a year ago, I posted about The Upside of Fear, referencing one of the women in this article who is biologically incapable of being afraid. I still believe everything I said then, that there is something to be said for the self-protective element behind natural fearful reactions to danger. Sure, fear can indeed alert us to our surroundings and sometimes save our lives.
But today I think about the unnatural fearful reactions to everyday situations, to the human condition, to tiny threats and imaginary dangers. I think about the fear of funky moles and crow’s feet and weird smells and bad dreams. Of crowded subways and mold and becoming a mother and not becoming a mother. Otherwise known as all the draining, useless fear so quick to appear and hard to spot; the fear that I’d like to let go of this year.
The author of the Times article references the research of Dr. Rachman in the UK, who “studied the physiology and behavior of paratroopers as they prepared for their first parachute jump.” He determined that there were three different groups of jumpers: the superheroes who displayed few signs of fear and jumped without issue, those whose anxiety kept them in the plane, and those who experienced that same anxiety but jumped anyway. Who do you think he concluded were the most courageous? I’ll give you a hint: it wasn’t the superheroes. And I bet all those guys felt great when they landed safely on the ground.
Courage is defined in the article as “the property of any wallflower who manages to give the convention speech, or the math phobe who decides to take calculus.” It’s not reserved for soldiers on the front lines, for firemen or X-Men—it takes its most honorable form in the ordinary life. In the person who perhaps experiences fear at its height, but doesn’t stay on the plane. It’s why you were more excited when Colin Firth delivered his address in The King’s Speech than you are when Wolverine takes on Magneto. (Weren’t you?? I mean, come on. The drama!)
I like that idea, that in reality I have the capacity to experience the depth of courage, even if the fear overcome is the next person’s day at the beach.
My silly everyday fears don’t paralyze me, but when I remember they’re there I realize how heavy they are to carry. They may slow me down more than I know. So, I don’t think I’m that person yet, that courageous wallflower. But in 2012, I’d like to become her.