It wouldn't be accurate to say that heights make Kathie nervous. Terrified would be more accurate. So would apoplectic. Or just plain "scared to death."

But nervous? No way. Nervous doesn't begin to tell the story.

But if that is true — and it is — what on earth was she doing on top of a 50-foot rappelling tower not too long ago?

I mean, besides screaming.

The answer isn't easy, but it is surprisingly simple. What it comes down to is this: Kathie was part of a team, and she refused to let them down. With their support she was able to conquer fear. She climbed the ladder step-by-agonizing-step (maybe the toughest part of the ordeal, in retrospect), hitched herself to the rappelling ropes, gingerly backed over the edge and descended.

It wasn't pretty, what with all of the screaming and flailing (and that was just from the rappelling instructors). But she did it. And that was the important thing.

The next day I asked Kathie if the experience helped her to overcome her fear of heights.

"Define 'overcome,' " she said.

"Well, are you less afraid of heights now?" I asked. "Is bungee jumping up next for you?"

"You've got to be kidding," Kathie said, laughing. "I'm just as afraid as I ever was."

"So basically, this experience didn't really do anything for you," I observed.

"Sure it did," she said. "It didn't eliminate my fear. But it helped me prove to myself that I could do something despite my fear."

"Even though you're still afraid?"

"Exactly," she said. "It turns out that the height of the tower wasn't really the issue. Fear was the issue. And my team gave me the courage I needed to handle the fear."

"And that's something you'll remember next time you're up on a rappelling tower?"

She shuddered.

"Hopefully," she said confidentially, "there will never be a next time."

OK, so maybe she isn't exactly a profile in courage.

Or is she?

Most of us would probably define "courage" using synonyms like "bold," "fearless" and "unafraid." But as I consider Kathie's experience, it seems to me that those traits don't have a lot to do with courage. The fearless person needs no courage. Same with the person who is boldly unafraid. Real courage is the ability to overcome fear in order to do what needs to be done.

For some people, such courage comes quite naturally, while others have it thrust upon them by time and circumstance. Some, like Kathie, are motivated to courageous action by friends and family. Others take courage from their faith and from cherished values. Different people are inspired by different things in different situations. The important thing is finding the right foundation upon which to build a courageous response — and then responding.


With or without the screaming.

No matter how nervous, terrified, apoplectic or just plain scared we may be.

To read more by Joseph B. Walker, please go to [email protected]