|“I must not fear. Fear is the mind-killer. Fear is the little-death that brings total obliteration. I will face my fear. I will permit it to pass over me and through me. And when it has gone past I will turn the inner eye to see its path. Where the fear has gone there will be nothing. Only I will remain.”
— Frank Herbert, Dune
What builds character? One might say poverty, or adversity, but that might not be a complete answer, for that would limit character building to those who experience hardship in daily life.
Perhaps the best answer to the question above is fear–it is an emotion everybody has felt. Fear builds character, but not living in it, facing it: having the knowledge that you were able to push yourself beyond your comfort zone and accomplish something that you otherwise would not have done. Obviously, this doesn’t mean being reckless with one’s safety, but rather building upon already-developed skills to face one’s fear.
Yesterday, my boyfriend and I had a wonderful time at a State Park. The plan was to go boating, and then swimming. I was especially looking forward to boating. We are both strong boaters and swimmers, so it didn’t seem like much of a big deal.
Upon arrival, we rented a canoe, and ventured out into a vast, deep lake. The canoe didn’t sit very low in the water, and the high center of gravity contributed to the feeling the boat could tip at any moment. Against my better judgement, I contributed to this, rocking the boat to the point of agitating my already worried (worried he would fall out) boyfriend. In less than 10 minutes out, he demanded to go back to shore.
Hell no! I thought, I came here to boat! I promised to stop rocking the boat, that he could stop paddling and just relax, and I would do the work, but he wasn’t having it–he was afraid the boat would tip over. If I were a better girlfriend (or if my boyfriend were a weak swimmer), I would probably have paddled back to shore at that point, but instead I decided to argue. He stopped paddling, and I chose to muscle us out into the middle of the lake, and sit there.
After about 20 minutes had passed, I decided it would be a good time to paddle back in. I asked him how he was feeling. “Good,” he replied, and he wasn’t worried about falling out of the boat anymore.
This story pales in comparison with a story about someone overcoming poverty or adversity, but in a simple situation, it illustrates how the ability to face one’s fear is useful in daily life, and that ability–not necessarily what fear one is conquering–is what builds character.
I would like to think we both learned something that day. I would hope he learned how to push his comfort level in a recreational setting. I learned that when someone feels fear–it’s fear–and it’s best to approach it gently and not rock the boat.
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