On Fear


I’m a Baby Boomer, no longer in my prime. In my life, I’ve experienced moments of fear — real fear. Bullets whipping through foliage overhead; a pregnant wife who pulled a knife during an argument; a menacing, out-of-control driver; the day a 727 blew an engine on take-off and began shuddering violently.

And I’ve seen others gripped by fear too. The poor guy who couldn’t commit to the steep, icy ski run with children waiting behind him; the screaming woman across the aisle on that crippled 727; a Green Beret who vomited and then froze during our first jump.

By and large, though, I’ve lived fear-free. Fear has been part of the human equation since early man climbed a tree to avoid a leopard only to discover the leopard was a superior climber.

But in my concealed carry “career,” I have not yet been confronted with a situation. I believe I would react properly. I’m a pretty cool customer. I was once an Army platoon leader, but that was long ago. I’ve had some training — but it’s intermittent — and I go to the shooting range now and then.

Fear: The Mind Killer

In his novel Dune, Frank Herbert called fear “the mind killer.”

Fear appears in two ways, and our reactions may differ. One is sudden, instantaneous startle. Think of the alien creature bursting out of John Hurt’s chest in Alien. People have wet their pants during that scene.

The second fear is of long duration. You know something is coming, something is out there, something menacing. The soundtrack from Jaws. The build-up to the alien’s appearance in Signs. The search for evil in Blair Witch Project. You tense, shoulders hunched and vision tunneled. You’re ready to jump.

Preparing for Fear

How does one prepare for fear? Perhaps the first step is to acknowledge that we are not immune. When Freddy Krueger’s shadow crosses the curtain, we gasp and sweat, even with the .45 in hand. When Leatherface walks past with his chainsaw, our breathing becomes shallow and rapid.

My guess is that most of us don’t know how we’ll react to actual fear. Think of a frightened deputy — experienced, well-trained, well-armed and only months from retirement — crouching outside a school while a truly evil man commits murder inside. At the decisive moment, he failed to “protect and serve.” That’s a memory that he must live with forever.

Two adult hikers with red backpacks and wide-brimmed hats take in the grandeur of a mountain vista while yellow flowers bloom in the sparse grass and wispy white clouds trail across a deep blue sky.

Perhaps the best way to judge our reaction to a fearful situation is to expose ourselves to fearful but manageable situations such as rock climbing or deep-water sailing. Maybe even building a treehouse for the grandchildren. (Photo by Rick Sapp)

I suppose the best way to prepare for fear is to acknowledge it, grit your teeth and move. Think of what you would have to live with if you succumb. Even though I was afraid, I responded fearlessly to gunshots in the ‘60s — perhaps because I knew the bullets weren’t meant specifically for me or because I still lived within the umbrella of youthful invincibility.

I don’t know how I would react today, but I imagine scenarios (what Albert Einstein called “thought experiments”), handle my weapons, discuss with my wife, check for exits, make sure my phone is available to dial 911 and take classes when I can.

I believe we can prepare for a situation and learn to respond automatically. But fear is an instinctual and internal response. We may have to acknowledge it … and then move forward. To prepare for the inevitability of fear, I believe we must experience it. We build tolerance by exposing ourselves to potentially fearful situations and coping with them successfully. An occasional confidence-booster will improve our ability to carry responsibly.


About Rick Sapp

After his stint in the U.S. Army, including time as an infantry platoon leader and working with West German KRIPO during the 1968 Soviet invasion, Rick Sapp returned home to earn a Ph.D. in social anthropology. Following his education from the U.S. Air Force Academy, the Catholic University of America and the University of Florida, he moved to France for a year. Rick worked for the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service before turning to journalism and freelance writing, authoring more than 50 books for a variety of publishers.

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