The myth of fearlessness

One day, as I was climbing out of the bathtub, I bumped my right shin against its edge. It was a small, yet painful injury that healed in just a few hours. But even today, when I get out of the bathtub, I sense the shadow of that injury in my right leg, reminding me to step well above its edge.

My own experience reminds me of a famous experiment that a French doctor, Edouard Claparede, carried out on an amnesiac patient. Everyday, he would shake her hand and introduce himself because of the patient’s condition. One day, he hid a small nail in his hand before he shook hers, which caused her to wince in pain. The next day, she refused to shake hands with him for some unknown reason. Even though she did not remember the doctor, she refused to shake his hand.

The fear of injury registers at a deeper level than our conscious minds can register or recognize. Anybody who thinks they can conquer, vanquish or get rid of fear is merely deluded. Fear is more fundamental to our brain than the part that tries to rationalize it away.

What we can do, is to build a relationship with fear. To converse with it, understand it and strike deals with it. That is what brave people do, consciously or unconsciously.

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