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On Fearlessness and Russert Watch

Posted: 03/26/06 11:11 AM ET

I'm temporarily passing the Russert Watch baton to our new HuffPost editor Rachel Sklar. She'll be taking over the onerous duty of watching "Meet the Press" each week and, as Atrios says, "documenting the atrocities." (I've found yoga helps clear it out of your mind, Rachel.)

But no, I'm not "cutting and running." I'll be using the time to finish my next book, "On Becoming Fearless: Advice for Women," being published by Little Brown in September -- which, even in the age of blogging, is a tight deadline.

Each week I'll be posting part of the book -- sort of liveblogging the progress, if you will (and I hope you will).

And not only would I love your feedback on the excerpts of the chapters I'll be posting (be honest -- I can take it -- I have to at least try to live up to my ambitious title, after all), but I'd also welcome any ideas you have for the book. Send in anything you think might be relevant: anecdotes about your own life, or those of friends or family, things you've read that you think might be helpful. This will be the first book I've written while blogging, and I'm excited to combine the two.

Your thoughts on fear and fearlessness can be anonymous, or on-the-record. You can either post them in the comments section, or email them to me at arianna at huffingtonpost.com. Hopefully, we can get an online conversation going on the subject. And men, you are welcome and encouraged to chime in, too!

To get you started, here are some selections from the introduction. I look forward to hearing from you...

On Becoming Fearless: Advice for Women

Introduction

As I watch my two teen-aged daughters grow up, I'm stunned to see in them all the same, classic fears I'd been burdened with: "How attractive am I? Do people like me? Should I speak up? What should I do with my life? Will I be happy?"

Are their fears more intense than mine were at their age, or do they just seem more intense? I had thought that along with everything feminism has brought us, our daughters would not have to suffer through all the fears I and my contemporaries, our mothers and grandmothers, had. Yet here is our younger generation, uncertain, doubting and desperate, as we were, trying to fulfill the expectations of others. What happened to my bold seven-year-olds?

As Mary Pipher put it in her best-selling book Reviving Ophelia: Saving the Selves of Adolescent Girls, "Something dramatic happens to girls in early adolescence. Just as planes and ships disappear mysteriously into the Bermuda Triangle, so do the selves of girls go down in droves." Fears in teen-aged girls manifest themselves in many ways -- depression, eating disorders, drugs, casual and confusing sex. Young women, fixated on looks, thinness, and sexuality, are still losing themselves in trying to gain approval from peers, grownups, the culture that surrounds them.

And yet, through the many case studies I've read, and above all through my experience with my own daughters, I again and again encounter moments of extraordinary strength, courage, and resilience, when fears are confronted, even overcome, and anything seems possible. It was my longing to somehow make these moments last that prompted me to write this book - for my contemporaries, for our daughters and for our mothers.

Fear and the clinical anxiety disorders associated with it affect more than 20 million Americans. Science has shown us that fear is hard-wired deep in our lizard brain. What differentiates us are the stimuli that instantaneously activate our individual alarms of imminent danger. Is it an armed burglar invading your home? A boyfriend not calling? An odd comment from a friend over lunch? An upcoming wedding toast you're expected to give? Taking a new job? Having to ask your current boss for a raise? Not getting out of a bad relationship for fear of being alone?

HOW FEAR LIMITS US

Beyond the major moments of fear in our lives, there are other times we sacrifice our personal truth to please the gremlins we call being nice, going along, being approved of. It's the loss of self that goes with the territory of feeling one thing but then doing another. If you let them, these hungry little gremlins will devour your soul bit by bit, and come to dominate your life.

...

Survival mode becomes habitual, just "the way things are." Our lives drag on -- stifled inside -- until hopefully one day, the lion of our inner jungle wakes up and roars: "I am mad as hell and I'm not going to take it any more!" At that point our truth will come out -- awkwardly at first, but indisputably. Such moments of truth, however small, resonate in the universe, and invisible -- and to that point unknown -- forces seem to line up behind us to usher us into a world of fearlessness where we can express our genuine self. Courage doesn't replace fear as much as it allows us to break free.

...

The most common response to this anxiety is conformity: "The individual," Eric Fromm writes in Fear of Freedom, "ceases to be himself; he adopts entirely the kind of personality offered to him by cultural patterns; and he therefore becomes exactly as all others are and as they expect him to be... the mechanism can be compared with the protective coloring some animals assume."


WHAT DO WE MEAN BY FEARLESSNESS?

Fearlessness is not the absence of fear. Rather, it's the mastery of fear. Courage, my compatriot Pericles wrote, is the knowledge of what is not to be feared. Which is to say, there are things we should be afraid of -- we have to stay alive, after all. So there's no time at which we will have completely eliminated fear from our life, but there definitely can be a time at which we are not stopped by our fears from daring to think new thoughts, try new things, take risks, fail, and start again.

I remember once talking to my 8-year-old daughter before a school performance. She kept saying she had butterflies in her stomach because she was "afraid to go on the stage." What if, I asked her, the butterflies were there because you were "excited" to go on the stage? She tried it. And it became a little joke between us. "I am not afraid, mommy," she would say. "I'm excited." And the more she repeated it, the less afraid she became. Since fear is such a primal reaction, making a choice to move forward despite the fear is an evolved decision that transcends our animal beginnings.

When we know who we are, in the spirit of our being, we overcome our fears and insecurities. We surpass our smaller selves who suffer -- and submit to -- the slings and arrows of our conditioned reality and we move to the unconditional truth of our larger selves. The questions of what to say, what to do, whom to let in and whom to keep out become a clear and simple matter of listening to our hearts. Our radar -- that inner voice -- is attuned and helps us align with our purpose, because each of us has a purpose, even if we judge it to be insignificant. The voice is in there. The question is how to listen to it.

To do that is to live in fearlessness.

WHY FEARLESSNESS IS THE ONLY WAY

Twelve years ago, I wrote a book called The Fourth Instinct, about an instinct beyond the first three that biologists and psychologists focus on -- survival, sex, and power; one that drives us to find meaning and transcend our limitations. Fear is at the heart of our first - our survival - instinct. It also informs our second and third instincts since fear of loss is so tied up with our sexuality and our drive to assert ourselves.

Our fourth instinct is what drives us to move beyond our fears - to claim our rightful spiritual inheritance and become what we were intended to be. It's what drives us to master life's secret, not by understanding it but by living it.
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Ironically, it's when we most need to be fearless -- in times of great tension and hurt and conflict -- that our survival instinct urges us to withdraw and withhold, to fight or flee. There are of course times when these are precisely the right choices. But far too many other times what we are risking by being fearless is not survival but disapproval, ridicule, or rejection. The more we tap into our fearlessness, the more natural and effortless it becomes.


* * *

In the chapters ahead, I will deal with achieving fearlessness in every aspect of our lives - in work, money, friendships, family; in the face of aging, in the face of death, in the face of loss of love, in our relationship with God and religion, and in changing the world.

 
 
 

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