In Nigeria we call it “ojuju”, at least that’s in the Eastern and Western parts, in Europe and the Americas it is the bogeyman. Across cultures it is known by different names but has the same effect: fear. As children growing up we were indoctrinated into the fact that “ojuju” is resident in every dark corner of the house. Now we all know the implication of that when suddenly electricity fails at night. Every child looks for his or her mother to hold onto ( I wonder why it’s always the mother). In a way we raise our children on this culture of acceptable fear.
And I will show you something different from either
Your shadow at morning striding behind you,
Or your shadow at evening rising to meet you
I will show you fear in a handful of dust.
Acceptable because the adults know it’s nonsense so they catch their fun for the day watching kids try to flee the clutches of “ojuju”. We grow up and understand the joke played on us and we set out to do the same to our kids.
Fear is a common denominator to all human beings, we have all been afraid and we are all still afraid. I try to arbitrarily classify fear as conscious and unconscious fear. Conscious fear will include the numerous phobias; from agoraphobia to xenophobia to claustrophobia. The list is endless, these fears are known to the individual and he/she tries avoidance as a panacea. When the individual is exposed to this type of fear the individual freezes, pulse racing with palpitations, excessive sweating, maybe tremors and other physically observable symptoms are present .these phobias are incapacitating to the physical person.
You may take the most gallant sailor,
the most intrepid airman, or the most audacious soldier,
put them at a table together—what do you get? The sum of their fears.
What I term unconscious fear on the other hand comes from our minds, the object of fear is abstract, it is intangible and the effects have a less physical manifestation if any. This is the fear that that limits our drive to succeed because we fear failure, or the drive to form relationships because we fear betrayal. It limits our desire to know God because we fear what we can’t comprehend.
I once refused to write an exam because I was afraid of failing, my classmates were preparing for this exam but I found a convenient way to sidestep it. Now looking back I could have written that exam even if I failed I would have learnt of a better way to write it the next time. But my fear kept me from moving.
That’s the type of fear we are talking about, the fear that stops your mind from taking necessary steps. After years of being made to feel like fear was a defect in my life, I have come to the understanding that fear is essentially necessary for growth and development. It is a necessary motivator for success if well understood and applied.
Today we celebrate people that contributed in no small way to our development as a species in this century. Men and women who through hard work and determination gained knowledge that is helping us know our world better. We like to paint them as fearless achievers but I like to remember them as men and women who knew and understood their fears and employed these fear in their journey of life.
Every man has a House of Lords in his own head.
Fears, prejudices, misconceptions—
those are the peers, and they are hereditary.
The difference between success and failure lies in the ability of one to feel afraid and yet do the needful, to be mortified and yet not be paralyzed by fear. Courage is not overcoming your fears but having mastery over them.
We can’t talk of the courage to succeed or to achieve and make exploits if we don’t talk of the fear of being a mediocre. Courage to eat right to be healthy can only come from a healthy fear of becoming sick through unhealthy eating habits. Fear, healthy fear should drive us to succeed, it should drive us to not conform but to be positively different. The business man who is striving to be wealthy is probably afraid of seeing his children suffer the want that he suffered growing up, the medical researcher spending night and day looking for the cure of rare diseases may well be afraid of seeing the despair in the eyes of a patient he could not help. The wealthy individual that became a philanthropist may well be afraid of how he will be remembered when he lives the world stage, and that drives him to try and write a new epitaph for him/herself.
More than being the negative force it has been described as, fear is a positively motivational force for success. When we were in school we were always told to strive to be better than our fathers in terms of education and achievements in life, so at some point in life the fear of being less lettered than your father drove boys to school. Even now that a lot of us are professionals the fear of not standing out among your peers drives a lot of people to pursue excellence so that they could be outstanding.
Okonkwo’s fear … was not external but lay deep within himself.
It was the fear of himself, lest he should be found to resemble his father.
Chinua Achebe (Things fall apart)
This is not to disregard the negative influences of fear but to focus by choice on the positives. Because at the end of the day the path we follow is a path of choice.
Two young girls came from the same village, both their mothers were widows and were petty traders striving to make ends meet. For both girls the fear of not wanting to be like others in their age group in the village drives them to look for a better opportunity in life. One apprenticed in a hair dressers saloon and years later has become the owner of a number of saloons. The other, driven by the same fear found herself with a group of girls that took her down the wrong way, she became a prostitute and started having unprotected sexual intercourse. She got infected with HIV/AIDS and died. Same fear different outcomes.
Today the call is to acknowledge your fear and strive to master it; it’s only the fool that thinks there is nothing to be afraid of. Your courage will be measured not in the mountain of fear you overcame to become successful but in your understanding of your fears and having them as a companion on your path to success. Someone once said that “the opposite of courage is not cowardice it is conformity”, choose not to conform today and take a dive into the deep end of the ocean of courage.