Margaret Wheatley: What’s so bad about fear?

Meg-and-Dalai-IconIn her article, “Eight Fearless Questions, ” (Edge Magazine, 2013), Margaret Wheatley models some remarkable questions. Even more remarkable, she doesn’t answer them — she invites us to hang out in the question long enough for it to offer up  surprises and insights. This was my favorite one in the list.

What’s so bad about fear?
“Fear has a lot of positive attributes when you think about it. First of all, it gives us adrenaline. So it gives us the energy we need, the surging we need, to really do things that, then, look courageous. So, fear could be a good thing.

The second thing about fear is that it’s instantly available. You don’t have to do any work here; you just have a thought and suddenly you’re afraid.

And the other good thing about fear is that it’s a constant companion. Day and night. Waking and dreaming. It’s always there.

So, what is there to fear about fear? I don’t know the answer to that question yet. So, I just ask you to consider it. But, it seems to me that a lot of our fear is based on wanting to protect and defend ourselves. And a lot of fear arises when we’re so focused on ourselves that we lose our engagement with the world. If the way out of fearfulness is to stop identifying so terribly with ourselves and with the self that we’re trying to protect and defend and nourish, then this leads us into the possibility that the way out of fearfulness is to connect with the greater world.”

Every leader struggles to distinguish between ego identity and authenticity, co-dependency and compassion, failure and growth, and many other seeming paradoxes. This question about fear, its benefits and traps, hits to the heart of discernment and transformation.

In my own life, particularly as a teacher (probably my most important leadership role), I have found that a healthy balance of fear and fearlessness makes for happier students and better classes. Fear/excitement/uncertainty keeps me alert, makes me pay close attention to the community dynamics. Fearlessness/curiosity/confidence helps me ask harder questions, push the envelope for me and my students. If I only had one of these feelings, I’d be missing out.

What do you think? Has fear served you as a leader? Has it hobbled you?

For more links to Margaret Wheatley’s writings, click here.

One comment

  1. […] time for all of us to take leadership roles with the language we use, claiming the courage to really talk with each other about what’s happening in the world, what we really want to protect, and how we can work together to truly protect it. That’s a […]


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