Tough times call for courage but often make the price of courage too high for many to pay. It can be sad, very sad. Telling truth to power is almost always tough. Large organizations, established bureaucracies, and major players may find crushing the aspirations and ideals of small truth tellers easy to do. Ironically, Lady Justice’s blindfold, meant to indicate that the law is no respecter of persons, can come to indicate the use of law to disrespect persons in a world where even threats of lawsuits can intimidate the underfunded from defending the highest principles.
Sad. The power to intimidate often depends as much, if not more, on the ideals of its victims, rather than any cowardice or greed or baser motives. When the dark forces start pounding on the door, a father thinks of his family’s safety, a mother looks to her children, an employer worries about his employees. People willing to fight, willing to stand fast, find themselves facing choices that would damage others cruelly, sometimes people who don’t even know there’s a battle raging. What right do they have to imperil friends or colleagues for their own self-defined righteous cause, they ask themselves. And just the asking of the question makes them cringe as their conscience whispers scornfully that they are just masking their own cowardice. Courage and bravery call for whole-heartedness, the lock-and-load mentality of combat readiness. Hesitation, ambivalence, divided minds leave one ready for neither combat nor even a well-negotiated surrender.
Sad. Fear begets fear. Fear can be layered—from fear of an external enemy comes fear for friends and family. With multiple layers, fear tightens its grip, extends its reach until it becomes a habit. I remember long ago looking up the definitions of bravery and courage in a glossary section covering virtues. It struck me as odd. Bravery was defined as doing the right thing though afraid while courage was defined as fearlessness. It seemed to me that such distinctions would make bravery superior to courage since it had a higher difficulty factor, but courage was clearly classified as the superior virtue. So I looked up the definition of virtue—“the habit of doing good.” It’s the “habit” factor that makes courage superior. The brave have to think about it, have to gather their strength of spirit; the courageous just go for it, only think about it afterwards. But when love of family and friends, also a virtue, comes into play, then even the naturally courageous may get caught between Scylla and Charybdis.
Sad. So do the biggest guns always win, the loudest shouters always prevail, the most lawyered-up always cow the legal-phobic? Not always. For one thing, there are laws that protect the process. Greater criminal penalties attach to those proven to have threatened witnesses. Prior restraint of the press can bring public condemnation. Remember the wise words of Tommy Lasorda, former manager of the Los Angeles Dodgers: “Never argue with anyone who buys ink by the barrel.” And in the world of the internet and its web, everyone owns a barrel of ink. Muscle marketing can invoke more muscling from competitors.
And that brings us to thoughts on how to free oneself from the grip of fear. Rule One: Stay in the game, even if only as an observer. No matter how terrified you may become, keep watching your opponent. And think of them as opponents, not enemies, maybe as stinker opponents, but still opponents who can be opposed. There’s a difference between crawling on the dirt in the face of an enemy and digging a foxhole. From a foxhole, you may be able to let your enemy march past, but from a foxhole, you might be able to raise your trusty rifle—preferably with a silencer attached—and pick off at least one straggler. Speaking of stragglers, perhaps you won’t be able to cast down your gauntlet in front of the CEO or other top-level executives, but that doesn’t mean you might not advise a key staffer to start looking for work somewhere not run by snakes. It may do no good for the staffer, probably already kowtowing to abusive management, but it can make you feel like you’re doing something.
Rule Two: Stinkers spread their stench around. More noses than just yours may have felt a whiff. Find allies, others who have reason to oppose your opponents. Look for competitors, particularly those battling for market in the same arena. Look for your target’s existing allies, who may not want to get stuck with part of the stench or who don’t want to see a shared service diminished due to market-hostile business strategies. Allies may not always have the same fighting issues as you, but they may have resources you need as well as their own issues. Look for weaknesses or vulnerabilities unrelated to your immediate difficulties. These could give you the opportunity to flank your opponent and come from behind. Oddly enough, nothing can seem so refreshing as stabbing someone in the back who is trying to stab you from the front.
Rule Three: Revenge is a dish best served cold. The old saying still holds true. When evildoers frighten you into inaction or into obedience to their whims, they steal your sense of safety, your belief in yourself. That’s how terrorism in any form works. Living well is the best revenge, another old saying that holds true, but you need to restoke, to refuel your courage or bravery. You need to feel strong again. And sometimes the only way to start that rebuilding is to muse on demolition projects for the opponent who pushed you into the hole in the first place.
But revenge is the dark side of freeing yourself from fear. There is a higher-minded approach, though one rife with opportunity for self-delusions and rationalizations. You might consider how sad it must be—inside—to be a stinker, how much better a life lived with principles and dignity and friendship to the world around would be for them. Perhaps you can lead them to the light, put them back on the straight and narrow, help them become what their mothers wanted them to be so long ago.
And if that doesn’t work, consider the wise words of G.K. Chesterton: “A thing worth doing is worth doing badly.” This countered the earlier wisdom of another wise man, Ben Franklin: “A thing worth doing is worth doing well.” The difference lies in the interpretation of “a thing worth doing.” If it’s freeing oneself from fear, it may be tough, it may take time and effort, but it’s worth doing. It’s worth failing at and still coming back to over and over. As long as fear exists, you’ve got to fight it.
And if you’re wondering what on earth led to me writing this particular editorial, give me a call. I might be feeling brave. (Of course, you’ll know how to reach me. You are librarians after all.)