Today is January 14 and the Navigate the Chaos question to consider is “how often do you use courage to manage fear?” The art of living often involves learning how to manage fear. The absence of fear is nearly impossible so learning to manage fear is a critical strategy many people have used to navigate the chaos. Researchers continue to investigate the complexity of fear and its impact on humans in a variety of settings. One such researcher was Daniel Gardner who published the 2008 book The Science of Fear: Why We Fear the Things We Shouldn’t–and Put Ourselves in Greater Danger.
Gardner examined cancer, how the media sells fear, the economy, and a host of other topics. Gardner begins his book by highlighting research conducted on the travel patterns of Americans following the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks. The official death toll for the September 11 attacks stands at 2,996, including the 19 hijackers, but research suggests that there is a further, indirect toll as a result of behavioral changes induced by fear. In the months after the 2001 terror attacks, passenger miles on the main U.S. airlines fell between 12% and 20%, while road use increased.
The change is widely believed to have been caused by concerned passengers opting to drive rather than fly. Traveling long distances by car is more dangerous than traveling the same distance by plane. Measuring the exact effect is complex because there is no way of knowing for sure what the trends in road travel would have been had 9/11 not happened. Gardner included the work of Professor Gerd Gigerenzer, a German academic specializing in risk, in his publication. Gigerenzer estimated that an extra 1,595 Americans died in car accidents in the year after the attacks—indirect victims of the tragedy. He used trends in road and air use to suggest that, for a period of about 12 months, there was a temporary increase in road use before citizens again became more willing to fly at similar rates to before the attacks. Gigerenzer ascribed the extra deaths to people’s poor understanding of danger and, as a result, “people jumped from the frying pan into the fire.”
Mark Twain noted one of the most important stepping-stones to success in his statement on fear: “Courage is resistance to fear, mastery of fear—not absence of fear.” Rare is the successful person who has a life free of fear. Do you have the courage required to manage fear? Mountain climber Emily Harrington did.
In November 2020 Harrington became the first woman to free-climb El Capitan via Golden Gate, the 3,000 ft (910 m) granite wall in Yosemite National Park in under 24 hours. The 34-year-old completed the mammoth task in 21 hours, 13 minutes and 51 seconds, and in doing so also became just the fourth woman to free climb the 3,200-foot monolith in Yosemite National Park within a day. Free climbers use just their hands and feet to climb, with a rope to catch them if they fall. Such a high-stakes, and potentially life-threatening, challenge requires years of preparation, both mentally and physically.
Harrington had climbed this route over the course of six days in 2015 and had subsequently tried three times to complete it within 24 hours. An attempt in 2019 ended in disaster after Harrington fell 50 feet, hit her head on a ledge, and suffered concussion. As she recalled in an article posted on CNN December 18, 2020: "It was very scary. It was very serious initially and it turned out that I got lucky and did not suffer any long-term injuries. It's definitely a mental struggle, coming over that hurdle, coming back into this year and trying again."
During her climbing adventures Harrington regularly feels fear. That might be a surprise to some people but feeling fear, experiencing fear, and managing fear are all part of a strategy that many people use to navigate the chaos. But they do not let the fear stop them from moving forward. As Harrington said "We should be less afraid to be afraid. It's a very valid emotion and it's something we shouldn't shy away from. In a lot of ways, we can use it as fuel and as strength." Harrington’s observation provides a blueprint on how to manage fear:
Acknowledge it exists
Accept it will continue to exist
Understand the goal is to be less afraid
Recognize it is a valid emotion
There is no need to shy away from it
Use it as fuel and strength
Today's reflection questions use Harrington's observation as a guide:
How often do you manage fear?
How often do you acknowledge it?
How often do you accept it will continue to exist
How often do you understand that the goal is to be less afraid?
How often do you recognize fear is a valid emotion?
How often do you shy away from fear?
How often do you use fear as fuel and strength?