JOINT BASE MCGUIRE-DIX-LAKEHURST, N.J. --
“Being vulnerable, having fear, worrying about changing your humanity…it’s all human.”
“We react to fear based off how our vulnerability is threatened,” said Jaclyn Urmey, Director of Psychological Health at the 514th Air Mobility Wing, during her class, “Fear and Resilience.”
The class is part of Urmey’s “Stoic Warrior” workshop series, which references the book, “Stoic Warriors: The Ancient Philosophy behind the Military Mind,” by Nancy Sherman.
The stoic warriors of ancient times had what some might call an irrational stance on fear. They believed fear should not even be an emotion and should be eliminated altogether.
In war, when we are faced with demanding situations, difficult choices, and seconds to take action, it can be understandable why fear might need to be pushed aside.
As one attendee of the class pointed out, “Fear can be debilitating.”
“Fear can stop you from taking risks,” another person said.
The question is whether you value the immediate satisfaction of pushing past fear over the risk and consequences associated with that fear, Urmey said.
Fear is not always a bad thing. Fear can keep us safe: it prevents us from walking across a dangerous highway and keeps us from forgetting to lock our doors at night.
When it comes to acts of war, however, such as taking someone’s life, or witnessing other violent situations, many military members have a fear of being changed.
“A stigmatizing fear in the military is that after deploying, you’ll come back as a different person,” Urmey said. “How cool would it be if there was a magic wand to wave to know that we’ll be alright at the end of the day, and that you’d still feel like a whole person?”
Sherman discusses this sentiment in her book, writing, “To witness or endure the most violent acts of humans with the assurance that one’s own virtue will not be compromised would be a remarkable charm to own.”
The class agreed that having that peace of mind would help to push past fear.
“But what would it mean if we didn’t change from our experience?” Urmey asked.
“We would all be the same,” one participant said. “It would be boring.”
“There would be no growth,” said another.
“If we stop responding and adapting to difficult things in our lives, do we stop evolving as humans?” Urmey asked.
As Sherman writes in her novel, “Yet it is a charm, we worry, that would alienate us from our very humanity. At what cost to our humanity do we arm ourselves against terror and torture?”
As military members, we may be expected to push our fear aside and to embrace the stoic mindset. It is still important, however, to recognize that fear, and learn how to still process it.
“One thing that helps you to reconnect and feel less like that fear is becoming a dictator in your life is to have your family and friends around you that you build camaraderie with,” said Urmey.
If your fear can produce rewards for you, that can help you determine if it’s worth it to push through, she said. Fear is something that can be used to find or build strength.
“All sensible people will break at some level of catastrophic stress, though just where that breaking pint is will vary from person to person,” Sherman writes. “There is no one human standard for what is the limit…courage requires not immunity from all fear or pain but endurance in the face of them.”
Urmey asked the class how they felt about courage.
One airman said, “Courage is acknowledging the fear, but then pushing past it.”
We as individuals determine the balance between what needs to be done and what is possible for us to do.
“And even in the very best of us, courage has limits,” writes Sherman.
Everyone is susceptible to feeling traumatized, Urmey said. Anxiety, frustration, and impatience are all results of feeling fear, especially when you do not know what to do with that fear.
“Fear is the root of anxiety,” she said. “Having neither hope, nor fear about the future is a recipe for feeling hopeless. That anxious feeling stems from a fear of something that makes you feel vulnerable,” she said.
No matter how much we try to train it out of ourselves, we’re still human, Urmey said. The human side of us likes to contingency plan. It gives us a semblance of control in extreme situations.
“Isn’t that a false sense of control?” a participant asked. “You can plan, but things just happen.”
“Why stress over something you have no control over?” asked one of the attendees.
“It’s part of humanity,” another person responded.
Urmey reminded the class that fear is a normal reaction of being human, but does not need to prevent us from moving forward.
“Fear doesn’t have to be a showstopper. It can be the diving board into something great,” Urmey concluded.