Do Those Things You Fear

By | December 9, 2019

[December 9, 2019]  I’ve had the personal good fortune to speak with military veterans who were in the most desperate, destructive battles of the 20th Century.1  I learned a few things from them that I will pass along today.  The most important lesson they gave me was – do those things you fear.

Such advice seems counterproductive.  Why should folks do things they fear?  Why should people consciously face situations that make them afraid?  Yet, if we were to read ancient philosophers, poets, and essayists across time and cultures, one piece of guidance is common.  Face your fears!

“Always do what you are afraid to do.” – Ralph Waldo Emerson, 19th-century American poet, philosopher, and essayist

I’ve written quite a bit about fear in my blog.  I hope that those who made comments and for everyone reading the articles, that they learned something along the way.  See a few samples here, here, and here.  Fear is an unforgiving driver of our emotions and pushes us to act in unpredictable ways.  That very unpredictability is the chaos in which we live.  Reducing that fear, of course, is the solution.

Self-help books on overcoming fear, and some are worth reading.  I would rather listen to the men who were “in the trenches” of combat and saw violence firsthand, the enemy, and felt their fears tighten around their gut.  And, yes, those with such experiences have something to say and it’s worth the effort to listen.

The best inoculation against fear is to have been there before (under similar circumstances) and know what will happen.  That is, of course, not always possible and often improbable.  A soldier in a landing craft about to hit the shores of Normandy will not have made the landing before.  But hard training with live ammunition and under simulated combat conditions with loud noises, smoke, and fake injuries can help reduce fear later.

Young men and women who were planning to participate in the Civil Rights march in Birmingham, Alabama in 1963 practiced by having their friends scream at them, push them around, spray them with water, and punch them in the stomach.  They were conditioning themselves to the insults, threats, and brutality that they expected.  They planned to have a non-violent march and they didn’t want fear to push them into doing something to mar the protests.  There are some somber photographs of the march here (see link).

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  1. One of the men I spoke to was a 16-year old Russian tank driver at the Battle of Kursk (the largest tank battle in history), two were in the first wave to hit the Normandy beaches on D-Day, two were at the Battle of Ia Drang (Vietnam), one was an Infantry Captain in the Invasion of Grenada, several in recent major battles in Iraq and Afghanistan, plus at least a dozen more.
Author: Douglas R. Satterfield

Hello. I'm Doug and I provide at least one article everyday on some leadership topic. I welcome comments and also guests who would like to write an article. Thanks for reading my blog.

20 thoughts on “Do Those Things You Fear

  1. Otto Z. Zuckermann

    Very powerful article. I hope that those who read this will get the point, Gen. Satterfield. If you have more articles on “fear” then please publish them. I love reading about it. Most folks don’t want to admit that fear motivates them.

  2. Valkerie

    General Satterfield, thank you for another excellent article. I agree with you that FEAR can be conquered using our brain!

  3. Max Foster

    Psychologists have long known that to help cure their patients of fear and anxiety is to voluntarily expose them to the very fears that most upset them. They do so in small increments. Over time, the patient learns that either the fear was unfounded and reduced, or it is reduced on its own with enough exposure. This is simple and effective. Thus, it follows, that if we are scared of something, then we can, on our own, expose ourselves to that fear in small doses. That works very well. I know of few other alternatives.

    1. old warrior

      Max, excellent comment. This is an important but often overlooked fact.

  4. Georgie B.

    I’ve often found that it is too tough for me to express my opinion when someone asks me something. I’m afraid of saying something risque and alienating. That I piss people off and they think I’m selfish or something. I have this bizarre fixation that perhaps others know better than me and my own conceptions might be a little bit on the foolish side or less valid. It’s also linked to my fear of criticism. In other words, I find it hard to say what’s really on my mind because I fear that some people won’t take it too well and they’ll have a negative impression of me.

    1. Jonathan B.

      Don’t let the dogs of war catch up with you, Georgie. Someone’s opinion is just that. Like assholes, we all have an opinion and its probably a pretty shitty one too.

  5. Jerome Smith

    Fear can be a good thing and I think that is one of the themes in Gen. Satterfield’s article. Here is a quote from Aeschylus, “There are times when fear is good. It must keep its watchful place at the heart’s controls.”

  6. Albert Ayer

    “The only thing we have to fear is fear itself.” the most famous quote of Franklin D. Roosevelt, US PResident during WWII.

  7. Army Captain

    This is exactly what I tell my Soldiers. You “think” about battle, “talk” about it, and “experience” it in order to cut back on your fear. Or, if you don’t reduce your fear of combat, then at least you’ll still be able to function while there. Combat is not something the human condition is ready for. Steel yourself. Face your fears. Only then will you be ready.

    1. Mark Evans

      This means having a strong backbone (figuratively of course).

    2. Janna Faulkner

      Thank you Army Captain for your service. Also thanks for reinforcing Gen Satterfield and his emphasis on facing your fears.

      1. Tom Bushmaster

        Yes! Get yourself ready, improve who you are, face your fears, stand up and be counted, have backbone, ….. these are the things we should all strive to achieve but they are about the most basic thing of us as a people. Recognize that fear can be paralyzing and destructive but also know that it can be a motivator.

  8. Wesley Brown

    I just read the footnote. Wow, you actually got to talk to these folks? The Russian tank driver who was at the Battle of Kursk, just wow!, what else is there to say. This was the most destructive (and largest) tank battle in human history and will probably remain so.

    1. Harry Donner

      Excellent comment and shows we should not overlook any part of these articles. Read more about The Battle of Kursk at this website that’s dedicated to the battle:
      http://www.battleofkursk.org/

      1. Wilson Cox

        The Soviet battle plan and its execution was exemplary and is still a subject of study in war schools.

    2. Shawn C. Stolarz

      Today is a dreary rainy day but you know what, I’m not afraid of getting wet, nor was I ever afraid of doing those things that needed getting done. However, I am afraid of scary movies. Go figure. I watch them and I react less with emotion than in the past and now enjoy them MORE. Ha Ha. Thanks all. Stay dry.

      1. Doc Blackshear

        Same here, I live in New York. With a crazy governor and stupid, racist city mayor we are just hanging our heads at this point.

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