Fearlessness vs. Courage

“Words matter.” I have heard this sentiment many times when drafting international agreements between the navies of the United States and the partner nations in Central and South America. Some words might commit the United States to do something they did not agree to do and create a false expectations in the partner nation. This of course would create tension between our navies and countries instead of trust and interoperability, so yes, words truly do matter. Putting the RIGHT words in international agreements is extremely important in building consensus and mutually beneficial relationships.

In some of the groups I belong to there is also an imperative to “watch your words” because once you do you realize how “mindlessly” people talk about themselves and others. If you ever start to listen, to REALLY listen, to what other people are saying and what YOU yourself allow to come out of your mouth, then you would start to appreciate how inconsistent most of us are in our stated beliefs and what we say.

I believe that the real goal of this practice is to use this as a vehicle to control your thoughts so that every thing you say is aligned with what you want. In other words, if you REALLY want HEALTH then you would start to clean up your language so you STOP talking about diseases, aging, “lost youth”, and health problems. Also, you can start catching yourself if you make excuses for things, “Oh I would love to eat healthy, but I travel a lot.” OK, what you really said is that you are NOT eating healthy. Now comes the second level, once you catch an inconsistency, are you willing to correct it? First in your language and then in your actions. If the answer is no, then at least you can be honest with yourself and know that you are choosing to be inconsistent. If you say yes, then clean up your language and clean up your actions, knowing full well that we all fall down, but that we are more committed to getting back on the horse and back on track than on staying down on the ground.

I remember being in one of our conversations and I used the word “fearless” to which the immediate reply was something like “what do you really mean?” This of course was a reminder to only speak what I want as opposed to “invoking fear.” I quickly corrected myself and spoke of “courage.”

However, there IS a difference between fearlessness and courage which a recent incident involving my four year old daughter, Vianca Patricia, brought to my attention. For our purposes lets define these words.

Fearlessness is the complete absence of fear. You simply do not feel it.

Courage is the ability to face and confront fear, pain, danger and uncertainty and take action in spite of it.

In the military there is the observation that only a fool feels no fear. One of those lines that everyone that goes to jump school hears and then repeats is that “no sane person wants to jump off a perfectly good working aircraft.” What this means is that everyone who went to jump school at some point or another felt fear when getting up to the door of an airplane and had to deal personally with the prospect of having to jump out of it. He could back out at any moment as this is an all-volunteer military force, all he had to say was “I quit” and he would be released from his requirement to jump. He or she would then return to their unit without their airborne wings probably in disgrace. However, the vast majority of people face their fear and JUMP! Perhaps this act of courage is just as important a factor in earning your jump wings as is the actual skill of parachuting of an aircraft, landing safely, and then BEGINNING your mission.

I have made the observation to my wife and friends that Vianca Patricia is fearless. This was also when I was nudged to correct my language. Yet, sometimes the right word is the RIGHT word. Vianca Patricia’s fearlessness is due in part to her inner nature and personality, but mostly to the fact that she is four years old and is brand new to the world. This means she is in the process of learning and recognizing danger. There is no fear or apprehension in her actions. My older boys are more careful and in “fear” certain things. To a certain extent this serves as a protection mechanism.

Some examples of Vianca Patricia’s fearless behavior include her immediate demands to have acupuncture performed on her upon watching me perform it her mother and taking the needles without complaint. She jumps of flights of stairs into the void when she sees me because she has the full faith that I will always catch her, which sometimes scares the crap out of my wife. She will climb anything and feels no fear or apprehension of heights, which once led to her falling of a set of monkey bars she decided to walk on top off and breaking her little wrist and wearing a cast at a young age. She walks straight into any body of water unless we restrain her even though she does not know how to swim. She picks up any exercise implement I use and immediately wants to do the same thing, whether she can lift it or not. She faces any animal face to face and touches it immediately. It is almost like she is a soul unaware the it is in a physical body and that the physical body can be injured.

Recently I went to pick up some things at a place I was staying in Miami and my wife and Vianca Patricia wanted to come along. Upon opening the door I see a pit bull and I immediately freeze and keep the door opened only one quarter of the way as I am making an assessment if the dog is mean or docile, friend or foe. My daughter comes in between my legs and stands face to face with the dog and puts her hand right on its face. Now I feel the FEAR, more for my daughter than for myself. Time slowed down as I watch closely with the concern that any sudden moves will trigger a reaction in the dog. As I watch Vianca Patricia, still under my legs, with the dog apparently under her spell I relax for one quarter second. Then I hear a bark and my daughter scream. With the courage and rage that can only a father defending his daughter can understand, I immediately dropped down and swathed the dog away. I quickly picked up my daughter and she said “he bit me!”

Now you know I am going “of all the f*&^%$g dogs it had to be a pitbull!” I inspect her and her dress and there are no tears to the fabric and no blood. I ask where did he bite you and she point to her stomach area. I lift up her dress and see the black and blue imprints of the dog bite and a slight scratch of open skin which is now starting to bleed. Her face had a four marks below her eye, as if a paw had swiped down on her while the dog bit her. When my wife who was walking toward the door asks what happened, as this whole event happened in seconds, I tell her and she informs me that we have to go to the hospital immediately. Luckily it was the dog of the daughter of the couple where I was staying and it had all its shots. We went to the hospital and an angel must have been watching over my daughter because it was all surface scratches. Of course Vianca Patricia had something just as powerful as an angel watching over her working in conjunction with her and the angel, someone that would fight any battle with all the power he could muster from heaven and earth and even lay his own life on the line for her if required, ME!

Vianca Patricia acted out of fearlessness, which led to a reckless action that could have cost her dearly, luckily it was mostly a scare and a valuable life lesson. I acted out of courage. There is a difference. I have felt FEAR many times in my life, specially in the military, and specifically in this instance. Perhaps what the military has taught me is to ACT in spite of my fear.

There is no merit in fearlessness, it could be a blessing or a curse depending on how it plays out. There is merit in courage, but you have to make the choice.

Be courageous.

All my best,
Eric Guttmann
The Self Reliance Manifesto

The Self Reliance Manifesto

2 comments on “Fearlessness vs. Courage”

  1. Frank DiMeo Reply

    Great post, Eric!
    Have you read “Fearless”, the story of Navy SEAL Adam Brown?
    It’s a true story about this amazing warrior.

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