Contradicting the Dictionary


macroFearless.  I was pretty sure I knew the word and its definition, but the part of me filled with self-doubt lead me to the dictionary.  Well, not the actual book, but several online versions. (I know!  How 21st century of me!)

The first words in each entry confirmed my original thoughts.  Fearless means without fear.  That makes sense.  The first definitions didn’t end there.  No period followed by a 2 to indicate a second definition.  No.  There was a semicolon.  (If you’ve ever heard me talk about writing, you know I love the semicolon.)  Semicolon present?  Keep reading!  So I did.

Fearless – without fear; brave or bold.  Interesting.  I have a hard time reconciling the two halves of that definition.  I’m a bit too Aristotelian for that.

In case you’ve forgotten your 10th grade world history class that dealt with Aristotle and the Golden Mean, please allow me to refresh your memory.  According to Aristotle the ideal of any trait is found between its extremes. In the realm of working, at one extreme lies workaholism while laziness resides at the other extreme.  The Golden Mean exists in a worker who is conscientious.  Likewise between cowardliness and foolhardiness lies bravery.

I’m not sure the fearless are people I want to be around.  Those without fear haven’t taken stock of the entire situation.  They don’t count the cost.  They plunge in headfirst without considering the consequences.

I would rather be around those who are aware of what’s going on around them; those who take calculated risks are more to my liking. They know what could happen, but they know action is needed.  The fear they possess doesn’t paralyze them; it compels them forward while making them cautious enough to avoid foolhardiness.

As I sat in the hallway of the high school girls’ dorm during a lockdown in the midst of a war zone, I positioned myself closest to the outside door.  I knew there was a possibility of soldiers coming through the door.  I knew the possibilities of potentially undisciplined soldiers happening upon 20+ teenage girls and a few unarmed adults.  I knew my colleagues were in the same position at the other end of the hall.  I knew I would stand between whoever came through those doors at whatever the cost.

Was I fearless?  Absolutely not!  Fear wrapped it’s slimy tendrils around parts of my heart.  Was I brave?  Maybe.  I don’t really know.  Thankfully nothing ever came of the situation.  Would I have been brave?  I like to think so.

I’m thankful situations like that are few and far between.  I hope you never have to face anything like that, but if you do, may you have enough fear to prompt bravery and boldness.

When you see injustice, may you be bold and brave to stand against it.  When you see another inflict pain, may you be bold and brave to intervene.  When you know someone needs more than you want to give, may you draw upon boldness and bravery to give up what you want to meet their needs.  When the odds seem to be against you, when the bullies are bigger than ever, when words seem so sharp they would draw blood, may you overcome your fear and move forward with boldness and bravery knowing you side with God who loves justice, mercy and humble companionship.

I doubt my contradictions will make much difference to Mr. Webster and his associates.  In case any of them read this, I’d like to help you work on your definition.  I submit fearless isn’t the absence or eradication of fear, but the overcoming of it.

When have you overcome fear to move forward with boldness?

photo courtesy of greyman on
I’m blogging with the faith barista again this week; you can check out her riff on fearless starting Thursday.

2 responses to “Contradicting the Dictionary”

  1. I agree with you, Sheryl. There is a huge difference between being without fear and being brave. I remember someone saying, “Bravery is walking into the situation ahead with fear still coiled around you.” Most people I know who have done brave or bold things did not do so without fear, but in spite of the fear.


  2. Thanks, Joan! I love that definition of bravery! I may just borrow it . . . especially for the days I’m teaching public speaking. 🙂

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *