What would it be like to live without fear? As we continue to deal with the impacts of a global pandemic, political uncertainty and increasing threats of climate change, it can feel, at times, that fear is ever present. It can be tempting to imagine how much better our lives would be if fear didn't get in the way, but for one woman in the United States now known as SM, fearlessness is a reality.
Her condition is due to a rare genetic disorder that only 400 people in the world have. It causes calcium deposits to build deep in the brain structures that help most people feel fear. In SM's case, these structures have hardened, leaving her without a functional fear-centre.
Doctors at the University of Iowa say that this disorder makes SM vulnerable because she is unable to feel fear and respond to dangerous circumstances that would make people's hearts race or palms sweat.
Courage is what allows us to transform fear into action and ultimately, continue to create and innovate in the face of fear or adversity. As Nelson Mandela said, "Courage is not the absence of fear, but the triumph over it." Instead of wishing fear away, we must practice collective courage in order to solve the world's wicked problems.
Courage is at the very heart of humanity and the word itself has roots in the Latin word for 'heart' and Brene Brown says that courage originally meant "To speak one's mind by telling all one's heart."
Many of us may think that courage is reserved for an extraordinary few or superheroes on the big screen. However, it's more about the decisions we make every day in our homes, businesses and communities.
To be great leaders, we must have social courage to overcome the fear of rejection or unpopularity. Acting with integrity and living our values require moral courage to overcome the fear of disapproval or opposition. The pursuit of any innovation demands that we have intellectual courage to challenge our thinking and overcome the fear of making mistakes.
Most of us are familiar with the fight-or-flight response to stress or fear, but research from Greater Good Science Center (GGSC) at the University of California, Berkeley shows that fear can also lead to what is known as the 'tend-and-befriend' response.
At its core, the tend-and-befriend response is a biological state engineered to reduce fear and increase hope by increasing care, cooperation, and compassion. Anytime you choose to help others, you activate this state. Caring for others triggers the biology of courage and creates hope.
We've seen this phenomenon on a global scale in the collaboration between pharmaceuticals, laboratories, universities and third parties to create one of humankind's most significant medical achievements – a vaccine in 9 months. It is a shining example of collective courage to keep in mind as we look to combat other challenges throughout the decade.
What else can we achieve by coming together and acting as one globally connected community? How do we make this decade remembered for humankind's innovation?
Designing around fear
The way we design is also informed by fear and courage. We responded to the pandemic by staying at home to keep ourselves safe – but staying at home is not the solution to the pandemic and it isn't a sustainable one (we can't stay at home forever).
The innovations that have been created in response to this threat have been wide ranging. From transparent masks to aid communication for deaf and hard of hearing people to more extreme protective measures like a biohazard suit invented for people to use so they can go out of their homes safely.
As the article suggests, it is "ridiculous" and is an "extreme version of protection"... "but maybe it's some kind of glimpse into the future way in which humans will protect themselves."
Choosing a courageous mindset
A new year usually begins fresh with optimism and the idea that we can begin anew. But in 2021, some might like to wish away the worries of 2020, it's clear that disruption and uncertainty will continue in the year ahead.
Choosing a courageous mindset is an important part of maintaining the stamina to face these challenges.
It's worth remembering that: "Courage doesn't always roar. Sometimes courage is the quiet voice at the end of the day saying 'I will try again tomorrow.'" – Mary Anne Radmacher