(From Refuse to be Afraid Tenth Anniversary Edition, now on sale at a ridiculous introductory price)
Courage is resistance to fear, mastery of fear — not absence of fear.
My eye was caught at the antique store by a thick, well-worn book titled “Modern Medical Counselor.” By its condition it was clear the book was anything but modern, and the price ($2) was right, so, figuring it would be an interesting excursion into the past, I brought it home.
What actually caught my attention was the section that I casually opened to, even before I brought the book home: “Survival in Atomic Bombing.” The copyright date of the book is 1951, so browsing through this book will be a traipse through an era where communism and nuclear death were our greatest fears.
With the knowledge of what was to happen in the next 60 years, we know the fears were largely unfounded. Hiroshima and Nagasaki are still the only cities ever destroyed by atomic bombs. Although the great communist bogeyman reared his ugly head many times over the years, the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics fell apart under the weight of its totalitarian follies and China has decided to try burying us the good old American way, by establishing government-subsidized monopolies.
In other words, the fear that was used as an excuse to impose on our liberties never came true. Communism and nuclear catastrophe did not destroy us.
Today, the fear is of small groups of terrorists (and “rogue nations”) with nuclear and other weapons of mass destruction. The fear is that an influenza virus that kills birds will find a way to migrate into humans and cause a pandemic. The fear is that standing too close to a person smoking a cigarette will give you cancer. We can let those fears control us, we can let others use those fears to justify locking us into cages, or we can refuse to be afraid and live our lives as free men and women.
Here is the fear that lurks behind all of these fears: We are afraid to die. We are especially afraid to die before we experience a ripe old age.
Here is the truth: We all will die, some of us “before our time.” The real choice we all have: We can live and die as slaves, or we can live and die as free men and women.
Most of our lives we exist in the gray area between freedom and slavery, convincing ourselves that we are making our choices freely: When we hand the chains to our government and our bosses and our creditors, we rationalize that we are making a free decision to enslave ourselves. And it usually is a freely made choice — in the beginning.
Like Jacob Marley’s ghost, we accumulate shackles as we progress through life, usually out of fear — fear of poverty, fear of going hungry, fear of not having a reliable car. And the biggest fear of them all is the fear of death.
Accepting that you will die is the beginning of freedom. The title of the song “Live Like You’re Dying” is its message.
These thoughts, especially as I relate them in a political context, could be misconstrued as advocating violent resistance against the slave masters. Nothing could be further from the truth. The revolution I advocate is an internal one:
Refuse to be afraid. Resist the impulse to yield to the fear and let someone strip your liberty in the name of security and protection. Live like you were dying — because you are dying, someday, so better to live free than in chains.
(From Refuse to be Afraid)