24 Jul Fear

Fear is something we are all confronted with. A colleague recently shared this excerpt that hit home for me:

To me fear is one of the most painful of human experiences. It is an ugly, raw emotional ulcer that stains everything I think and do. I cannot run from it. I cannot shed its prickly shroud. I cannot expel the feeling of dread. My chest is tight and my belly is in spasm. I would rather smash my thumb in the car door than go around all day suffocating in fear.

Yet over the years I’ve found that my fear can be a powerful gift. First, I’ve never known a dead man who was afraid. Fear reminds me I’m quite alive. I’ve never known anybody who cared, who was facing something difficult, who wasn’t afraid – afraid of failure. If we aren’t afraid it means we don’t care. Fear leads us to the better part of us.

Although I’d rather suffer most physical pain than the pain of fear, I need to feel it – to take it into myself. Fear is like a pack of dogs – it chases us, and if we try to run or hide from it the dogs will continue our chase until finally, exhausted, we fall and are devoured. But if we turn on the dogs, turn on the fear, concentrate on it and feel it, we’re taking into a different world. Something happens to the dogs when we face the dogs. They begin to slink away. Embracing fear we leave fear powerless. Fear becomes afraid of us.

When we’re afraid and do not own it as a legitimate, useful tool, when we hide from it, fear tends to put on different masks. My own response to unattended fear is to attack, to become aggressive and hostile. Afraid, the lion attacks. Like the rabbit that runs into its hole, some people evade. The frightened killdeer hops along crying, acting as if it has a broken wing so that we may follow it away from its next. It misleads. We distrust people who evade or mislead, and we reject them. We see witnesses who react to their fear in much the same ways – as do we. The only appropriate method to deal with fear is to own it.

When it came time for me to make my closing argument in the defense of Randy Weaver in the Ruby Ridge murder case the judge peered down at me and said, “Mr. Spence, you may begin your argument.” My heart was pounding. The jury was watching, waiting to finally judge me, my client, and our defense. Could I answer the United States attorney? His argument had been powerful. To listen to the D.A., Randy Weaver was this vicious skinhead, this murderer who had conspired to kill a United States marshal. Would they believe what I knew was true – that the government, not Randy Weaver, was the murderer? My throat felt tight. My mind was blank. The juices of fear drowned out all the wisdom and clouded the eyes. I was afraid and I reverted to the animal. I wanted to attack the opponent. Damn fear!

I looked down at my feet and tried to locate exactly where my fear lay. There it was, where I could always find it – high up along the ribs in my chest. I felt it, all of it that I could take into myself. Then I looked up at the jury.

“Ladies and gentlemen of the jury,” I began. “I wish I weren’t so afraid.” I could hear my own words as if I were listening to another person in the courtroom. “I wish, after all of these years in the courtroom I didn’t feel this way. You’d think I could get over it.”

I thought some of the jurors looked surprised. Here was this lawyer who had taken the United States government head on, who’d cross-examined more than fifty mostly hostile government witnesses – the FBI, the marshals, the government experts – and he was now confessing his fear?

“I’m afraid I won’t be able to make the kind of argument to you that Randy Weaver deserves,” I said. “After nearly three months of trial, I’m afraid I won’t measure up. I wish I were a better lawyer.” Every word I said was true. And I knew that the jurors themselves were afraid – the mirror. After confessing my fear I spoke to them about their fear. They, too, must be afraid. What if they convicted an innocent man? What if they missed important clues in the evidence? What if, at last, they failed to render justice?

The jurors and I connected. I could feel it – the symbiotic relationship that we shared – and my fear began to melt away. I saw the jurors faces relax, their arms and legs begin to unfold. Soon my argument took on its own life, one guided with my feelings. And because I was in touch with my feelings I could be both angry and humorous. The jury was invested in my argument and listened intently to it despite its flaws – the false starts, the errors in syntax, the trials that wandered off and finally came back again. They listened to my argument because it was real and because I was real, and the jury acquitted Randy Weaver, who was indeed an innocent man.

… In the Randy Weaver case my oratory, as it were, was of a different sort – one that arose from the heart, the head merely its guide.

… It’s all right to be afraid. One cannot be brave without fear. Those young fools who love danger and feel no fear are only fools. Courage comes when we recognize our fear, face it, and hurl ourselves into battle. I think of Captain Ahab, in Moby Dick, who said he wanted no men on his ship who were not afraid of the whale – which means he didn’t want any fools around him. The line between courage and foolhardiness is narrow.

At last we see fear is our friend. It warns us, protects us, and prepares us for battle. The sages were never afraid of fear. They embraced it, learned from it, and grew from it, and survived to become old sages.

As we already know, the risks we face are great. But the greatest risk of all is doing nothing when something needs doing. The organism that does nothing soon dies. I see it everywhere, every day, men and women who have lived their lives inside their own locked closets of fear. Like plants in the dark, they wither, turn yellow and die. Is it not better that we should have lived fully, bravely, and died in the sun?

From Win Your Case: How to Present, Persuade, and Prevail – Every Place, Every Time by Gerry Spence

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