No Courage Without Fear

I once heard someone say admiringly of another: "He was very Cowardly Lion courageous; he didn't know the meaning of fear." While I appreciate this sentiment I've come to the conclusion that this is not really a very good definition of true courage, for it seems to me that an action can only be brave in the presence of fear. People are most courageous when they are willing to face their greatest fears. Notice that the key phrase is "willing to", not "wanting to"! As has often been noted, the willingness to engage in behavior you don't want to do is the pathway to the greatest personal growth.

Many unhealthy behaviors occur when people actually should be fearful but aren't due to some impairment of perception or judgment. A person driving during a thunderstorm should 'fear' the poor visibility and slick roads enough to slow down; a diabetic should 'fear' the consequences of a dozen Krispy Kremes enough to not eat them; an addict should surely feel fear entering a stranger's house for drugs or sex (although paradoxically the inherent risk of an action can intensify the thrill of doing it). Unprincipled behavior that ignores potentially devastating consequences is not courageous -- it's reckless. Refusing to acknowledge and respect evidence of danger can be the last thing a person does.....ever!

True courage, however, is keenly aware of danger -- danger of taking action, and of not taking action. The driver who slows down on the wet road may be more prudent than courageous, but when that addict tentatively walks into his or her first 12-step meeting, or when one of my clients takes a deep breath and tells me something he or she swore never to tell anyone, courage is flexing its muscle.

From a certain perspective fear holds a gift that can only be put into trembling hands. It's an opportunity to act according to ideals rather than expediancy, to face rather than flee, to grow rather than hide.

Do you have a principle worth standing for? Be afraid. And do it anyway.


Bill Herring, LCSW, CSAT is a highly experienced Atlanta-based counselor and psychotherapist offering a respectful, motivational, non-confrontational approach to individuals and couples seeking to live a happier and more meaningful life.  While working with a wide range of adult clients, Mr. Herring is a nationally recognized specialist on compulsive sexual behavior and chronic sexual infidelity.  He is available for confidential in-person and online consultation and counseling, and may be easily reached by phone or email .

Filed under: