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On Fear

Donquixote-PicassoRoy Williams' Monday Morning Memo is always filled with insightful, inspiring stories. Roy, the Wizard of Ads, is a very wise soul. In this morning's letter he writes,

I am reminded of what Michel Eyquem De Montaigne said with tongue in cheek during the French Renaissance 450 years ago, “My life has been filled with terrible misfortune; most of which never happened.”

As expected, we received a firestorm of email 2 weeks ago as a result of the Monday Morning Memo of March 2 in which I said I had chosen not to be fearful about the future. It seems that a lot of people take pleasure in fretting and they want me to get on board.

But a frightened person frightens other people. And these newly frightened people will frighten still more people until finally no one is spending any money. Fear is the fuel of recession. I understand perfectly what’s happening in the world. I simply choose not to be afraid.

I also choose not to be afraid.

Fear is a recognition of insecurity. There are ways to approach this notion of fear.

Fear can come over me because external circumstances dictate that I should be afraid. Alone in a dark parking lot and a rough part of town is a good time to feel fear. This is the kind of fear that Gavin De Becker considers a gift.

External circumstances can spark fear, not from insecurity, but from inadequate understanding or lack of perspective. This is one of those times. No one can see the whole picture. We can't see the big picture because the complex interaction of forces at work are never fully available to us.

If we are dependent on our own ability to see everything, to manage our external life with absolute security, then we will be afraid during times of disruptive change. However, this is a false security, and always has been.

The reason that I am not fearful is because I accept the chaos and complexity of change as normal, not abnormal. I accept it as the context which tests every ounce of my brain and the beat of my heart to look for a pathway to success.

In other words, I choose not to be fearful because it leads to worse complications. It does not make the hard external circumstances go away. Instead, I learn everyday how to adapt to constantly changing circumstances. As I do, my confidence grows because I learn from the experience.

The hardest challenge is to have had success or a good job, and suddenly, they are gone. You are left on your own, and the security of external circumstances that you became accustomed to having has faded away. Now, you are left to your own capacity to change and grow through the chaos of the moment. It has always been this way. The fact that millions of people are sharing this experience may not mean much right now, but it does suggest possibilities that others have not recognized.

These changing circumstances are also affecting our relationships. They are under threat, just like our businesses.  Old assumptions have to be placed on the table to see whether they are sustainable. New commitments made that build strength for adapting together to these chaotic times.

If you live your life, and run your business dependent upon your ability to manage external circumstances for security, then you will live your life under stress and fear. We get rid of fear by learning to be confident in our ability to adapt and change. This is an internal change, within us, that then becomes reflected in our outward actions.

The last thing to say about this is that I cannot do this alone. I cannot master the fear inside me by force of will. Two things must occur if the fear in me is vanquished.

First, I must admit it to other people. I must join with them in acknowledging our shared fear, and then find comfort and support for transforming it into the kind of confidence that we need to find the opportunities in the midst of chaos.

Second, I must turn my focus from my own fear to helping others get over their's. When we give ourselves away, we find a connection with people that makes sense of the chaos. We begin to see that much of our fear is produced by our lack of meaningful connection to other people.

Here's one example of what I mean. Here in Asheville, it has been a cold winter. Our church in late January, early February decided to open up a community room on Saturday afternoons for those who are on the street without a place to go. This action was simply a stop-gap measure to fill a specific need in the care for the homeless. I learned last night that a fellow came on Saturday to the room. Met some of our members, and returned on Sunday morning for our late morning worship service. He was so moved by the connection he found with the people on Saturday, and the service on Sunday, that at the conclusion of the service, he came and became a member of the church. I'm not sure a homeless person has ever joined our church, so this is a rather remarkable occurence.

When people connect in service and support to one another, they find their fear diminish, their hope returns, and their confidence for managing the chaos of life strengthened. This is what each of us can do, and it begins personally by choosing not to be afraid. 

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Photo credit: Google images

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