The Voice Of Fear

Courage vs. Bravery

 

When soldiers go to war, they don't fight because they hate what is in front of them, they fight because they love what is behind them. When they return, the defenses they created to protect their loved ones are the same defenses they must lower to return to them.


Courage is that which is required when the thing you fear is emotional and there is no real physical danger. Bravery is that which is required when the threat is real and poses a physical danger.

 

Courage is needed in order to face your emotional fears -- to get out of your comfort zone and try something different. If a person is afraid to speak in public, but his or her new job requires it, it will take courage to face that fear.

 

Bravery, on the other hand, is what compels a fireman to run into a burning building. While he knows the danger is real, it is his duty to face that danger. 

 

Some argue these terms mean the same thing, but I disagree. I am sure there are firemen who would rather be called to a dangerous fire than sit on the couch and reveal their deepest emotions to their wives.

 

Why is it people with dangerous professions -- which require a great deal of bravery -- also experience the highest divorce rates? If bravery and courage are the same thing, why is there a breakdown of communication in the relationships of these individuals? Wouldn't they be able to communicate as easily as run up the flight of stairs? And, why the high percentage of alcoholism, suicide and drug addiction? Does this stem from keeping things bottled up and not having the courage to communicate?

 

There are many examples of bravery in our society, but I am afraid we have far fewer examples of courage. Understanding the difference between the two is critical to helping those brave individuals release the emotions they keep bottled up because they have confused courage with bravery. The braver a person feels they must be in order to do their duty, the more afraid they become of acknowledging any form of fear because they have learned to repress it.

 

For instance, the worst thing a soldier can do on the battlefield is desert his or her fellow soldiers when the shooting begins. Soldiers live in fear that they will succumb to this response until they have had enough experience in battle to know they can handle their duties with honor. Even when they have the confidence to know they can stand and fight, they still fear anything that could lower their guard and make them more vulnerable to fear.

 

When soldiers return home, however, they have a difficult time lowering the emotional armor they have erected to perform their duty because they confuse bravery with courage. To the brave, taking their emotional armor off is an act of cowardice when it is, in fact, a true act of courage. So, many veterans keep the armor on, trapping their emotions, which leads to divorce, addiction and homelessness.

 

But it is not just soldiers, firemen, policemen and other such professionals who become trapped by bravery -- it is anyone whose sense of responsibility requires them to repress their fears to "get the job done." This can be family providers, single parents, mothers, fathers, sisters, brothers -- anyone who fears failing their obligations, and subsequently represses this fear, is vulnerable to confusing bravery with courage.

 

Bravery requires the repression of fear, but it takes courage to explore the fear you had to repress in order to be brave.

 

I have included three stories that required me to be brave and two stories that took great courage to further explain my point.

 

Does Your Dog Bite?

 

Since age two, my brother has worn sunglasses because of a deformity in his eye. His pupil runs the vertical length of the eye, so it lets in much more light than it should. His vision was affected, making him extremely nearsighted. Because of this, even though he was older, I felt very protective of my brother because he could not always detect possible danger around him.

 

Once, when I was eight and my brother 10, we were out playing in the front yard and a large German Shepherd appeared. He was closer to my brother than me, but I could tell that this dog was scary. He was growling in low tones and moving in an aggressive manner. At the same time, I could tell my brother was clueless and had not detected the danger. I was about 30 feet from the dog and my brother was roughly 10 feet away. A feeling of fear and anger grew inside of me, as I considered the possibility my brother might be attacked, so I stood up and charged the dog, waving my arms and yelling. I hoped this would scare the dog and get my parents’ attention, as they were in the backyard.

 

The dog turned from my brother and looked at me. I can remember feeling some relief as his attention shifted, but I was also fearful because the danger was then on me. I didn’t really have a plan at that point. At eight years old, I suppose I wasn’t all that intimidating -- the dog charged me and bit my arm. At that point, my parents came from the backyard and the owner of the dog appeared.

 

For a few moments, things were pretty chaotic. My brother was crying, my dad was yelling at the guy with the dog and my mother was trying to see how badly I had been bitten. These were the days before everyone sued everyone, and all parties eventually calmed down. The man apologized for his dog's behavior, but felt the need to say that, had I had not charged the dog, he would not have bitten me. In hindsight that is probably true. The dog's teeth had barely broken the skin and, because the dog had all of its shots, a little first aid from my mother was all I needed.

 

Later, my mother asked me if I had learned my lesson. I looked at her, confused. I wasn’t sure what she meant. She noticed my confusion and told me that I gave the dog no other option but to defend itself and, in the future, I should just back away and get help. I looked at her, still confused, but without knowing how to explain what I was feeling. I just nodded my head as if I understood. If I were to have that same conversation today, I would have told her watching my brother be attacked would have been 100 times more painful than the dog biting me.

 

Gun

 

In 1977, I was working at a coffee shop as a waiter. I was picking up a couple of burgers to deliver to a table when I noticed a waitress standing frozen at the cash register. Since she was a new employee, I assumed she was having trouble operating the register, so I put down my burgers and went over to help.

 

As I got closer, I saw what the problem was: A man had a gun sticking out of his jacket, concealed so only someone facing him could see it. A wave of fear and adrenaline swept over me as I walked up to the register. The part of my mind that was still working had time to decide if I should continue toward the register or head to the back of the restaurant to call the police. Time slowed. I knew I had the right to keep myself safe, and that I would not be in the wrong if I took the safe route. But I couldn't make myself turn. I was drawn towards the register; toward the waitress who looked so helpless and frozen by fear. I told myself I needed to help her and repress my own fear in order to do so. I tried not to look at the gunman or make eye contact.

 

I eased the frozen waitress aside and then behind me. I opened the register, pulled out all of the cash and handed the money to the gunman. I held my breath, hoped he would be satisfied with the money and had not come to kill. He left the restaurant without anyone else knowing what had happened.

 

Later, the police told me the worst thing the waitress could have done was freeze because that usually sets these guys off and, in their frustration, bad things happen. I had done the right thing by not challenging him and not giving him a reason to kill. As time has passed and I reflected back on this situation, going to the register has remained the right decision in my mind. I believe that, had I left the waitress frozen at the register and the gunman had hurt her, the injury to me would have been worse than anything a bullet could have done. I spent the next several months in counseling to help me deal with the trauma of the situation and release the fear I had repressed in order to act.

 

Knife

It was 1978 and I was dating a girl who had assured me her recent former boyfriend had taken their break-up well and was out of the picture.

 

One evening, I picked up a female friend of hers (who didn’t have a car) and we drove to my girlfriend's house. When we arrived, we heard a blood-curdling scream coming from inside. Her friend looked at me in terror and said, “It must be Ted.” I said, “Ted who?” She then told me that Ted was the old boyfriend who not only had not accepted the break-up, but also had a very bad temper. To make matters worse, Ted was in the military, powerfully built and had a history of violence.


We heard another blood-curdling scream, and I began to wonder if Ted was trying to kill my girlfriend. As with the other experiences, time slowed down and I had to make a choice. This was before cell phones, so I knew we would have to run to the neighbors to call the police -- then, another scream. I decided there was no time, pulled a golf club out of my trunk and went inside. I knew I was entering the lion’s den and was scared to death, but I felt this was my girlfriend's only chance for survival.

 

I heard scuffling as I entered the house, and, when I turned the corner, I saw my girlfriend on the floor trying to crawl under the sink to escape Ted, who had a 10-inch kitchen knife in his hand. I saw no blood, so I assumed he had not cut her yet. I tucked the golf club behind me so as to not appear threatening. He looked crazily at me and asked who I was. I lied, telling him I was the boyfriend of the girl out in the car. 

 

My presence must have triggered him to evaluate what he was doing, because he immediately softened, looked back at my girlfriend and said, “I love you, I would never hurt you.” Even while still holding the knife, I could see his behavior change --  he was now fearful that she would reject him for what he had done. At that point, I tucked the golf club in a corner so he wouldn’t know I was coming in to possibly attack him and spent the next hour asking him to demonstrate his love to my girlfriend by walking outside with me. 

 

His fear of her rejection had made him submissive. I thought I could use this by giving him a way, in his mind, to get back into her good graces by putting down the knife and leaving. Eventually, I got him out of the house and he drove off. Afterwards, I drove my girlfriend to her mother’s house. Her mother called the military base and had Ted confined there, my soon-to-be-ex-girlfriend ultimately moved out-of-state, and I resolved to be a bit more selective in choosing my girlfriends.  

 

Once again, I had been presented with a choice; I easily could have died going into that house, but somehow, not going inside seemed even scarier. I remember very clearly how scared I was and how much effort it took to repress my fear. It took me several weeks to return to normal. I had a heightened sense of danger and spent a number of nights shaking on my couch, trying to let the fear I had repressed come out.

 

Model Mugging

 

I have taken a self-defense class several times called “Model Mugging.” This is where an instructor dresses up in a protective suit so you can learn how to execute self-defense techniques with full force and contact, allowing for adrenaline training that imprints the techniques into the body. During the class, there is a great deal of discussion about each participant's history with violence and powerlessness and, with this information, the model mugger creates scary situations in which to fight.

 

I had attended the graduation session for a female class, where I got to see students fight when faced with different assault situations. It was quite moving. There wasn’t a dry eye in the house. All of the women in the class had found such a powerful voice and the focus needed to deliver such intense force. Everyone seemed to have truly grown and changed since they started.

 

I was so moved by the class I signed up for the men’s class. I have since taken the class four times and plan on taking it every year it is offered. I was amazed by how scary the class was, even though I knew the person in the suit was an instructor. Once he put his huge, padded helmet on and began to speak aggressively, it became real.

 

The training was brilliant because it allowed me to see how I would act in a real situation. I was surprised that most of the men in the class found it difficult to be violent, and find the anger and the voice to protect themselves. What I discovered in myself, and in watching others, was a strange feeling that, as men, we were not worth defending. I'm sure none of the men in my class would have given it a second thought, were they coming to the aid of their family or even a woman or child they did not know. But when it came to protecting themselves, a sense of worthlessness emerged,  making them submissive to the attacker. However, following a great deal of discussion and support from the group, each man found his voice and the desire in his heart to fight for the right to be safe.

 

At one point during the class, we were asked to describe a situation from our past that was particularly scary or traumatic. The instructors then created that situation so we could “re-fight” it, only this time we would win and undo the damage it had done. They asked us to pick the scariest situation we could remember, in order to maximize the healing factor. The first time I took the class, I chose a scary situation that I knew was not my scariest -- I chose to have three muggers verbally attack me until it escalated into a fight.

 

The next time I took the class I decided to bring out my real scariest moment.

 

When I was a freshman in high school, I was playing basketball in P.E. and accidentally bounced the ball into another player’s face. He was a tough guy, one of the typical bully types we are all familiar with. I didn’t realize that I had done it, but when I was walking back to the other basket he came up from behind me and kicked me square in the butt. It hurt quite a bit. He did this right in front of the P.E. teacher who was sitting in the stands. He was intimidated by the bully, so the teacher said nothing. I thought the worst was over but it was still to come.

 

Once class was over I went into the locker room. As I was opening my locker I got grabbed from behind, thrown down on a bench and held there by two of the bully’s friends while he sat on my chest. He grabbed and twisted my nipples while describing what he was going to do to me if I ever hit him with the ball again. I was pinned down and could not move. The feeling of helplessness was overwhelming. He finally got off of me when I started to scream, unable to take the pain and panic anymore.

 

The event truly traumatized me. From that point forward, I wouldn’t allow anyone to touch my chest. Even if my mother had touched my chest I probably would have hit her before I knew what I was doing. The feelings of helplessness and vulnerability came back to me any time anyone got near that area. I covered my nipples when the doctor wanted to listen to my chest and I would warn him to move very slowly.

 

That incident happened in 1970 and I was taking this class in 2002. After 32 years I was still affected by it. I went out onto the mat and described what had happened to me. It was hard to get the words out, as the panic started to build and the emotions began to overwhelm me. I chose to go first, hoping I would be a good example for the other men. I had found in the first class that many of the men, not just myself, picked a situation that was not their scariest. They, too, later regretted it because they realized they could have learned more by taking a "bigger bite" of the fear, as the instructors called it. I wanted to take my biggest bite in front of them to inspire them to do the same. This desire allowed me to find the courage I needed for my own growth.

 

There were three instructors in mugging outfits so I had two of them hold me down by stretching out my arms as I laid on my back on the mat. The third sat on my chest with one hand on each peck. I told him to grab my chest hard and the other two not to let go of my arms for 30 seconds. The panic and fear in me at that point was overwhelming. The idea is to re-write the situation I was in and by doing so I could exorcise the trauma. My 15 classmates on the sideline cheered me on and encouraged me so I knew I was not alone.

 

During that 30 seconds the instructor was on top of me, I talked to the other two, telling them to let the man on top of me fight his own battle and to let me go. After the 30 seconds were up they released my arms and I struck the instructor on my chest with a vicious blow to the eye based on the techniques I had been taught. I had also asked for an extended fight, which means I had to hit him several times before he went down. They do this sometimes to show how fighting a person on drugs may be if they were not feeling any pain. I asked for this because I wanted the fight to be as real and as intense as possible.

 

After one vicious blow to the head, another to the groin and a third to the head my attacker went down. We were told to scream ‘NO!’ every time we hit, symbolizing our right to be safe and our unwillingness to allow anyone to make us unsafe. There was an instructor on the mat with us who blew a whistle to let us know the fight was over and to make sure we stopped. This ensures that we don’t hurt the instructor and that we can come out of our rage.

 

When the fight was over I collapsed in a pile of emotions and tears, feeling sick from the adrenaline. The miracle I received is that I am no longer sensitive about my chest being touched. The genius of the class was that it was all based in finding the heart to fight for the right to be safe. People can create amazing power and be incredibly effective when the heart is truly fighting for that right.

 

Sometimes the instructors can, and do, get hurt. These men chose to take this risk so we could find the heart to defend ourselves. The class also taught me to assess a situation and do whatever it takes to avoid getting hurt. There is a great deal of discussion and how critical it is to understand who you are facing. This class gave me back a part of my body that had been taken from me 32 years earlier because I found the courage to relive it.

 

Cheerleader

 

I was shy from the time I was a kid all the way into my college years. As a freshman at a large university I felt a little lost. I talked to my parents and we decided that I would transfer to a smaller college in an effort to help me out. In the summer before the transfer, I decided to conquer my shyness.

 

My shyness was rooted in being overly analytical about relationships. I felt that I had to be perfect to be in one, and rejection meant I wasn’t good enough for one. With this transfer I had finally found the courage to try to change. I was not going to let my fear continue to control my social life.

 

I thought that going to the smaller school would be the perfect chance to leave the past behind. I would reinvent myself and if I didn’t act shy, then who would be the wiser? I could only create true change by facing my fear and silencing the voice of fear in that situation.

 

I arrived at the new school and quickly put my plan into place. First, I forced myself to look people in the eye when I spoke. Second, I made sure I said hello to five different women each day. This in itself was huge. My heart rate raced every time as my fear saw danger in this simple act.

 

After a few weeks I began to calm down but I was far from being a ladies man. The fear ran deep and required extreme measures in order to silence it. The months went on and I increased the number of people I talked to and situations in which I put myself.

 

A funny thing sometimes happens when you face a fear; the original fear starts to fade away, only to see a new one replace it.

 

My new fear was that I was afraid to stop my anti-shy program for fear I would regress. I kept putting myself in more and more difficult situations until finally I found the mother of scary situations. I figured that if I could meet this challenge, all my fears would be silenced.

 

There was a girl. There’s always a girl.

 

Her name was Kathy and she was beautiful and popular. They're always beautiful and popular.

 

She was a cheerleader and always had two or three football players following her around. 

 

One night in the cafeteria I saw her sitting at a table with three other popular girls and half a dozen football players. My plan was set. I would walk up to that table and, in front of everyone, ask Kathy if she would like to go out sometime. I figured that if I could do this and face the ensuing chaos that it would surely cause, then I had truly broken out of my shell.

 

Call me crazy, but it was the test I needed. I knew this girl would blow me off and I would probably be laughed at by the surrounding audience, but that wasn't the point. The act itself was the test. I took a deep breath and approached the table.

 

“Excuse me for interrupting, but I would just like to know if you would be interested in going out sometime,” I said.

 

The table went silent and everyone stared at me. I focused only on her and tried not to look at anyone else at the table.

 

“No,” she said (in a disgusted manner as though I asked her if she liked kicking puppies).

 

The table broke out in laughter and one of the football players threw a roll at me and told me to get lost. By this time a good part of the cafeteria was watching the display, their faces a mix of laughter and horror.

 

What they couldn’t see was my smile on the inside when I left.

 

I was free. My plan had worked. The fear of rejection was gone and with it went my shyness. I had taken back my self-worth and silenced the voice of my fear. After that experience I went out on several dates and looked forward to relationships with women. 

 

A couple of weeks later I was walking to class when the roll-throwing football player approached me in the hall. I wasn’t sure what plans he had for me but I never could have anticipated what happened next.

 

He stopped me and asked if he could talk to me. He apologized for throwing the roll at me, which came as a surprise. He said that what I did took more balls than anything he had ever seen. Apparently he had wanted to ask her out too, but couldn’t come up with the nerve. He was blown away by what I did.

 

“It made me feel like such a puss, I couldn’t take it. That's why I threw the roll at you,” he explained.

 

He put out his had and shook mine and said, “Man, I will never forget the balls that took,” and walked away.

 

I thought to myself that he was right, it was a great act of courage. But the only reason it was courageous was because my own belief system allowed the situation to be scary in the first place.

 

I only stayed at that school for a semester before I dropped out and moved to Lake Tahoe. I may not have graduated, but the education I got while roaming those halls was priceless.

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