The title of this piece is borrowed from the movie I saw in my early teen years, starring Barry Newman and Suzy Kendall - the movie was based on a book by the same title, by the great thriller novelist, Alistair Maclean. Since then the word fear is a subject of interest and enquiry.
Couple of years back I was standing on the plateau of Mount Pilatus, overlooking the city of Lucerne in Central Switzerland. The mountain is part of the Alps range, and I was perched upon the highest one named Tomlishorn. Whilst, admiring the natural and scenic beauty, I was filled with wonder and amazement to see on how the gliders, in an unpowered, non-motorised flying gear made of synthetic sail cloth, that formed the wings, fearlessly and daringly were leaping off the cliff, and then floating/soaring like birds in the air. Each time a glider would move closer to the edge of the cliff, he/she would recheck all the flaps, retreat a few feet and then come running like a steam engine towards the precipes and dart off the cliff - my knees would be numbed, watching this sight and not by the close to 2-3 degree Celcius temperature but - “fear gripped me”. These gliders were giving me the practical meaning to the often used line, ‘leap of faith’. I had traveled via a single cabin train, that at one stage of climb appeared perpendicular to the earth; and I came down via the spacious cable car.
On both occasions, my mind was filled with fear - first the trains cable could snap and then the cable car could fall - the first drop from the station was almost 500ft -a lump in my throat developed! I was ‘fearing’, what was not ‘happening’!
Fear is inherent to human nature- the dilemma of fear is due to the unknown and also due to knowledge. Ignorance is fearless. Knowledge besets us with fear. A child of 1-2 years of age will enter a darkroom with no inhibitions, while a child of 3-5 years will insist for the lights to be first switched on-- in the little mind of the earlier child, darkness represents nothing dangerous but to the one who has been exposed to the “concept of darkness”, it ushers feelings of ‘fear’.
Fear is not a reality; mostly it is in the realm of thought imagined or fantasised. Boarding the star ferry in Hong Kong for a “long 7 minute” journey across to Kowloon Quay, I would start thinking, will it drown this time? When was the last mishap of the ferry capsising? My racing mind would create fear that did not exist - the only accident of the ferry sinking was about 100 years back! Most fears never happen.
Fear and phobia are sometimes confused to be synonymous. It is not so, Fear represents terror, horror or anxiety; phobia relates to abnormal fear or more aptly, irrational fear. Fear is an attitude - a state of mind. It can be rid, by training and control of internal conversation we all have with our inner person. Fear has to be tamed.
Is fear a real thing? Yes and no. It is a yes, when you dare to open the hatchet of the sunroof while on a trip to the African Safari Park; but it is a certain no, if you have in place while flying, a good supply of parachutes of alternatives to counter the emergence of any real or perceived fear. Most of us in life in general and in our work environment in particular cannot make a fine distinction between bravery and adventurism.
Riches bring care and fears. It is said, ‘when we have gold and diamonds we are in fear; when we have none, we are in danger’. Since fear has the quickest ear and also has a magnifying glass, it is best not to live in its perpetual occurrence, but to take it head on. Any who fears leaves, must not venture to go into the woods. There is no over the counter medicine for ‘fear’.
At our work stations, we are filled with anxieties and fear, whenever a new task, assignment or project is assigned. The worst of the doomsday possibility looms prominently on the frontal cortex than the real possibility of achieving a successful outcome. We remain fettered by the cobwebs of our fear filled thought process.
Even while discussing the annual or otherwise exercise of appraisal, most shirk in asking pointed questions to the appraiser / supervisor — the fear; lest it makes him /her angry! A mind that is at peace can easily move from being a temple of confidence and serenity to being a devil’s workshop.
How and what we feed our mind, to grow upon us, makes for the emergence of either a person who is fearless with caution or a person who looks to be the fullest format of timidity, with apprehensions surrounding the persona. A stable mind is the key to jettison fear. Epictetus had written, “The struggle is great, the task divine -- to gain mastery, freedom, happiness and tranquillity.”
Fear is an eternal foe of all creative activities. It literally induces more doubts than confidence, in the development of new thought. Its presence halts all reasoning and takes away the gut and grit to undertake action.
Franklin D Roosevelt in his inaugural address had this to say: “The only thing we have to fear is fear itself - nameless, unreasoning, unjustified terror which paralyses needed effort to convert retreat into advance.” Excessive fear is powerless. Nothing is uglier than the sight of a scared man. Fear corrupts the mind more than power can. Never be afraid of fear; it is that laboratory where only negatives are developed. Courage is, the divorced cousin of fear; where fear sets in, courage departs and where courage exists, fear takes the first flight out.
The development of the phase of fear is best described by Dorothy Thompson, “The most destructive element in the human mind is fear. Fear creates aggressiveness; aggressiveness engenders hostility; hostility engenders fear” -- a disastrous cycle.
In the corporate environment, there is demand, of expectations, meeting of deadlines, enhanced responsibilities to cater to - these mustn't be allowed to be reasons for inducing fear - the fear of failure. Bold managers, with a forward-looking attitude, do not allow the possibility of fear to reign on their minds, and hence upon their efforts / action. For such, every failure is an experience that leads to a better future. Failure or its fear is not meant to keep any unspoiled but to act as a motivation to do better.
Shakespeare in Macbeth says, “Present fears / Are less than horrible imaginings”. Fear is virtueless.
Better a fearful end than fear without end.
The writer is a senior banker and freelance columnist