One of the most difficult things to teach youngsters is about the nature of fear. What it is; how to take control of it; how not to let it take over the mind and spirit. Real fear can reduce a strong person to a mass of quivering jelly. Real fear can paralyze the emotions and the body, and in extremis can result in totally unreasoning panic.
After a particularly difficult moment in the school shop class, I remember once saying to my Grandma that I simply could not use hand tools very well and thus I was never going to be as good as Grandpa who was a master cabinet maker. After feeding me tea and home-made cookies in her kitchen, she chided me for my lack of confidence, and then used one of her favorite pithy sayings to make a point to me about my fears. Said she, “Never be afraid to try something new. Remember, amateurs built the ark, professionals built the Titanic.
Many years later when studying the philosophy of the ancient Romans, I came across an equally persuasive, if somewhat more formal statement about this phenomenon regarding control of fear when I read the wise words of Marcus Aurelius, (121-180 AD), who was Roman Emperor from 161 to 180 AD. He ruled with Lucius Verus as co-emperor from 161 until Verus’ death in 169. He was the last of the “Five Good Emperors“, and is also considered one of the most important of the Stoic philosophers.
Marcus Aurelius certainly led an eventful life, and it was one filled with many dangerous and deadly moments; the war with Parthia; various palace intrigues against him and his family; the arrival and spread of the plague in Rome, and on and on. Once when asked by a friend how he managed to seem so calm in moments of great stress and danger he averred that:
“If you are distressed by anything external, the pain is not due to the thing itself, but to your estimate of it; and this you have the power to revoke at any moment.”
Wise words that still have clear and strong direction as they echo down the intervening two millennia.
***This article was written by one of our contributing writers: Malcolm Noden