‘Fearlessness’ is often a quality highly acknowledged and celebrated. Even if one is not, it is a quality that is projected or sometimes granted by people. But, personally for me, I have to admit I have largely been a fearful person.
Such candid admission might not well augur for my outward image. Yet, over the years, my own learning and theory is that ‘vulnerability’ is an ‘ability’. Authenticity (at the risk of using this often-abused word) perhaps comes when we are very alive to our own vulnerabilities and fears.
Where do my fears come from? Psychologists might say all fears are related to the ‘fear of unknown’ and finally to ‘fear of death’, but for ordinary people like us, it might not be easy to trace every fear and connect it to the fear of death.
My earliest fear was an extreme fear of death of my parents, which stayed with me for a long time. While I was five or six, one day I sneaked out of my school and ran home, fearing my mother would die. Losing my way in the by-lanes of the small town, I stood on a street, leaning onto the fence of a house, extremely terrified and not knowing where to go or what to do. Since my father was a teacher in the nearby government school, the lady of the house recognised me and took me home. This is also my earliest, yet strongest memory.
As time went by, my fear also expanded—I feared the death of people on whom I was dependent.
Growing up in the late 70s and 80s, shuttling between the large joint family (mother’s side) during extended vacations and our home (where my father worked), I sensed that the overarching, general mood or tone of the larger family was fear (not joy). Fear of anything that could go wrong. Fear of something untoward happening. With a large extended family of relatives, distant relatives, and extra-distant relatives, news of someone falling ill or dying was not that rare.
Till I completed my 12th standard, I was not allowed to take the bicycle outside our compound. Fear of not letting children go out. Fear of not allowing young adults to commute alone. If you were a girl or woman, it was all the more restrictive. Then there were enough fear-inducing gods and goddesses, waiting to get angry and curse you. Thus, poojas and rituals were done at the drop of a hat. Astrologers were consulted for the smallest of the decisions.
The list was endless. Fear always loomed large. Though no one knew what everyone is fearing. At the end, every expression of love and care became an expression of fear.
One silver lining in this was my dad teaching us swimming at a very young age. Fear of water was dealt with.
Much of these fears and the ways of dealing with it in later years have shaped a better part of me. My initial actions were of rebellious nature, which in a way decided my approach to religion, rituals, and in general, the many norms of life. Next, a long and a sort of transformative stint in an organisation enabled me to focus on individual development by dwelling deep into oneself, questioning everything, and being true to oneself. Among the many things that got shaped was the clear shift from a right-conscious mode to a responsibility-conscious mode. Then, most importantly, drawing from the strength of the one closest relationship one has, where all fears and vulnerabilities are laid bare. Also, acknowledgment that one doesn’t know enough and therefore become a seeker, being able to trust people and always open to a different worldview and knowledge made me further alienate my fears. And becoming comfortable with laughing at oneself!
Yet, have I become a fearless person? Honestly, no. My choice to walk a different path in life and career was often remarked as courageous. But perhaps, only I know about my fears and staying alive to it. Or maybe, like complex human behaviours, fear might be contextual. Or like the famous quote, “Courage is not the absence of fear, but the triumph over it.”
Whatever that may be, I believe that the growing-up environment has much to do in how fearless or fearful we grow into. Fear cannot be the way to express care to the young ones.
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