[October 24, 2019] U.S. Army General. George S. Patton once noted, “If we take the generally accepted definition of bravery as a quality which knows no fear, I have never seen a brave man.” Patton clearly understood that fear can be a great motivator to succeed in battle. It can also be the greatest of all motivators.
Fear is a primitive instinct that has served humans since the dawn of our age. It still serves us well today. When we experience fear, for example, we never forgot where we were and what we were doing. Our most vivid memories are born in fear. The adrenaline etches them into our brains.
Fear is also corrupting. It has been said that it’s not power that truly corrupts but fear itself. “Fear of losing power corrupts those who wield it and fear of the scourge of power corrupts those who are subject to it.”1 This is why we study history. Politicians are especially prone to the corrupting influence of fear and so we regularly read about them succumbing to its sway.
Fear can also paralyze. Being such a powerful motivator, there are those who cannot withstand the pressure. The classic “deer in the headlights” condition will freeze free thinking and stifle creativity. But it can also push us to our greatest achievements.
Those who wish to manipulate us use fear as a motivator. Look no further than the current U.S. Presidential race and what those in the competition are saying about the dangers of climate change, racism/sexism/etc., and income inequality. Fear is used to sell us almost everything; cars, insurance, and anti-bacterial soap are classics. It is also used in propaganda.
The benefits to fear as a motivator usually outweigh its downside. Fear is often associated with some form of personal growth; if it doesn’t kill us, it makes us stronger. Even when fear made us try something new and failed, at least we can say we tried. People who embrace their fears by admitting they are frightened (telling the truth to one’s self), are also happier, better developed, and more equipped to handle the ups and downs in life.
I, for one, vote for fear. But as a social tool, the danger is great.
This article is last of a 3-part series on “fear.” I hope you enjoy this mini-series on professional development. Please comment so that we can add to our understanding.
- Diplomat Aung San Suu Kyi.