“Courage is not the absence of fear, but the ability to overcome that fear.” [Nelson Mandela]
Fear. The most terrifying four letter word.
We all fear something or someone. The dark. Spiders. Bullies. Our anger. Ghosts. Loneliness. Something bad that might happen to us or those close to us. Failure. Death…
Even those of us who claim not to be afraid of something have fear. The fear of acknowledging our vulnerabilities and weaknesses.
Fear is a natural emotion, one that is designed to protect us and our loved ones. But sometimes it can become an unhealthy obsession and turn into a disease, an infectious one.
It can become an obstacle that prevents us from moving forward in life or from showing leadership when it comes to making difficult decisions.
Here are five ways that we can overcome fear in our lives.
1.Acknowledge and accept your fears
The first step in solving a problem is to acknowledge and accept that it exists. Identify the fears in your life, however big or small. Pretending that your fears don’t exist will only make them worse.
2. Familiarise yourself with the things that cause you fear
“Fear leads to anger. Anger leads to hate. Hate leads to suffering.” So said the Jedi Master Yoda in the fictional Star Wars movies.
Very wise words, even though they came from a fictional character in a movie.
We fear something because we are unfamiliar with it. Our ignorance of it leads to frustration and anger. Anger blinds our rationale and we begin to hate the thing that we fear. And hatred produces suffering in the world.
Islamophobia. People who are so afraid of Muslims that they hate Muslims.
The word phobia comes from the Latin word phobos, which means an irrational fear or aversion to something.
The reason they are afraid of Muslims is because they are ignorant of Muslims.
Like 61 year old American John Dutcher from Nebraska. In his own words from a recent interview (link below), he was “one of those guys who would want to put a pig’s head in a mosque” who would “sneer” at Muslim women in hijabs.
Until six Muslim refugee families moved into his apartment building and he got to know them.
“They took the hatred out of me,” he now says with tears welling up in his eyes. “I never knew how badly somebody could hate someone they don’t even know.”
“Go get to know them,” is his message to people who hate others.
So if you are afraid of tattooed white men with shaved heads, go up to one and ask him about his tattoos and what they mean to him.
If you are afraid of the dark, keep spending time in the dark, alone, until you overcome your fear.
If you are afraid of dogs, ask someone with a dog to familiarise yourself with dogs.
If you are afraid of the police, go up to a policeman and ask him for directions or ask him what he likes about his job.
Embrace your fears, don’t avoid them. Run towards your fears, don’t run away from them.
3. Imagine the worst that can happen and work backwards from there
“Most of what is feared to happen does not in fact happen,” is a line from the Torah. In other words, man’s imagined fears are far greater than reality, as the following story demonstrates.
Many years ago I found myself at a children’s activity centre trying to encourage an 8 year old boy to abseil down from a tower.
He was overcome with fear. His legs were shaking and he was refusing to even go to the top of the tower, let alone abseil down from it.
I first told him that it was OK to be afraid of heights, because even I was afraid of heights. That was his first shock.
Then I asked him what his other fears were. “The rope might snap and I might fall and die,” he muttered.
So instead of telling him not to be afraid, I worked through his fears one by one.
I told him that there were two ropes holding him up. In the history of that activity centre, not a single rope had ever snapped, let alone two different ropes snapping at the same time.
Then I said that in the unlikely event that both ropes snapped, and he fell, he was unlikely to die because the tower was not that high and there was grass at the bottom.
The worse that could happen was that he might break an ankle that would take 3 weeks to recover and then he would be fine.
Eventually I managed to convince him to go to the top of the tower and after a little while the brave boy abseiled down. He enjoyed it so much that he returned for a second go all by himself.
Successful businesses frequently conduct “war games simulations” before making any major decision.
Armies conduct real-life war games to test their capabilities in the event of conflict. Governments frequently conduct simulations on how to deal with a terrorist attack.
They work through the “what ifs” one by one and then find a solution to each one.
Therefore, if and when something does happen, they are confident that they can deal with it and it does not become as daunting as they imagined.
“Sometimes you need to go through the tunnel of fear in order to come out in safety at the other side.” These are the words that I said to my family before I was extradited to the United States.
4. Don’t be reckless and take unnecessary risks
Courage is overcoming fear by taking calculated risks. It is not courage to be reckless and take unnecessary risks just to satisfy one’s ego. A reckless person is not fearless, he is stupid.
5. Put your fears in context
People fear other people when their awareness of God is lacking. Someone who truly believes that God is the Master and Controller of the universe can never be afraid of another human being.
I have never understood how a “religious” person can be afraid of human beings.
Or how scholars who preach and teach Islam fear human beings more than they fear Allah.
Or why some in the Muslim community have imprisoned themselves by an irrational fear of human beings and “the authorities.” I wonder if they realise that the fear they spread kills more dreams than they create.
If you truly believe in your heart that not a leaf falls without God’s Permission, then you will never be afraid of another human being, even if that human being is the most powerful person in the world.
Once the famous 13th Century scholar Al-Izz bin Abdus-Salam confronted the sultan of his time about something wrong that was happening in the land. This sultan was well known for his brutality.
Al-Izz entered upon the sultan’s court, in the presence of all his guards and courtiers and began to admonish him. As Al-Izz’s voice grew louder and louder, those present said,
“We thought that any second now the sultan will cut off his head, so we folded up our garments in case his blood splashed onto us.”
But the sultan relented and backed down until Al-Izz left.
Later, Al-Izz’s students asked him, “Weren’t you afraid in front of such a mighty sultan?”
Al-Izz replied, “By Allah! When I thought of Allah’s Majesty, the sultan became smaller in my eyes than a little kitten.”
You can read my story and why I went to prison here.
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And here is the video clip of the American John Dutcher talking about how he overcame his hatred (read fear) of Muslims: