Fear Itself


Have you ever known true fear?

Fear takes many forms in our lives.  There’s the sharp, urgent fear of a dangerous altercation or a near-miss traffic accident.  There’s the deep-seated anxieties that hinder our personal or professional growth, or that can turn relationships toxic.  For some, there’s a deep, existential dread that comes when we ponder our meaning and significance in the universe.

I’ve experienced each of these.  In my twenty-plus years of private investigation and security consulting, I’ve seen people at their best and their worst, and have had many opportunities to see fear up close.  But I will submit to you a truth I have come to know:  you don’t truly know fear until you’re a parent.

My daughter, a beautiful young lady, is graduating high school.  As I write this, she’s texting me a literal countdown of her last day in high school.  Her plans for the summer include a road trip with some friends.  No adult supervision!

Never mind that I’ve taught her to be smart, observant, and safe.  Never mind that I did the same thing when I graduated high school.  The parent in me is afraid.  One of the downsides of my work is that I am a professional worrier.  It’s my job to think of all the bad things that might happen in order to plan mitigation steps.  But when it’s your baby girl, it feels a lot closer to home.

When my son was a wee toddler, we left him playing in his room to bring some groceries in from the car.  It soon dawned on my that he was being too quiet.  I went to check on him, and saw that he was not in his room.  I quickly checked the rest of the house:  he was not there!  I had failed to close the front door adequately, and he had made it outside.  After an intense search, my wife and I soon located him at our next-door neighbor’s house.  Their toddler son had a red-and-yellow pedal car that proved too great a temptation for my son.

All was well.  But for approximately 90 seconds, my son was missing.  I lack the skill with words to fully convey the fear I felt in that moment.  It struck my gut like a sledge hammer and I had ice in my veins.  I felt a fear with such an intensity that dwarfed anything I had felt previously.

So now, as my daughter makes her plans and maps her route, I feel the shadow of that old fear returning.  As a security professional, I know that fear can often be the enemy.  It can cause panic, sow confusion, and cloud our judgment.  But there is a different side of fear.

A very influential figure in my field is Gavin de Becker.  He is a renowned security expert, and author of a book titled The Gift of Fear.  I recommend reading the book, and I certainly can’t do it justice here.  But one of the points he makes is that at its best, fear can serve us well.  It is the voice of our instinct, the voice of caution.  It can be our early warning system that alerts us to things our conscious mind has not fully grasped.  When we make it work for us, rather than surrender to it, fear can indeed be a gift.

We all experience fear.  It’s central to the human condition, and it’s a connection we all share.  I believe every parent fears for their children’s safety.  For a blog dedicated to writing mystery/thrillers, capturing that fear can make a story relevant and authentic.  In a world that seems increasingly fraught with danger, fear can become more pervasive.  FDR famously told us that we “have nothing to fear but fear itself.”  Respectfully, I would amend that statement.

Allowing fear to run rampant is to be avoided.  But using that fear as a reminder to listen to our inner voices, to be mindful of the world around us, can be a true gift.  I’ve told my children that courage is not the absence of fear.  In fact, courage is impossible without fear, since we can only have courage when we act in spite of it.  We must acknowledge it, learn from it, then conquer it.

Conquering our fear means different things to different people.  It can take years, if not a lifetime.  But to me, that’s the key to a truly full life.  And frankly, the key to a hell of a novel.

And by the way, of course I’m doing a full security assessment and intelligence analysis for every stop on my daughter’s road trip.

-Ben Keller

4 thoughts on “Fear Itself

  1. Great post, Ben! I’ve worked a lifetime in two careers where life and death situations are ever present, and I’ve concluded that anyone in the military or policing who is never afraid is a fool. They scare the crap out of me. I suggest you hire a security team for your daughter’s road trip.


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