Long before suspected shooter Lee Loughner shot Arizona congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords point blank in the head and killed six others, Giffords had received death threats.
Her husband Mark Kelly quoted her as saying, “Someday, I’m really worried that somebody’s going to come up to me at one of these events with a gun.”
But she never let that stop her from making herself readily available to her constituents at her Congress On Your Corner events, where she had no security. Even after a contentious race that landed her back in Congress, Giffords stood for what she believed — including a pro-gun stance. People magazine quoted Arizona state representative Steve Farley as saying, “I’d ask her, ‘Aren’t you afraid?’ and she’d say ‘No, we have to stand up for what we believe in,” said Farley.
And now, she’s in a rehab facility after miraculously surviving a through-and-through gunshot wound to the head.
A Fine Line Between Courage And Recklessness
Was Gabrielle Giffords reckless for putting herself out in public with no security after receiving death threats? Not in my opinion. You just can’t live in a state of fear. Nobody lives a joyful life if they’re constantly afraid of what might happen. Period.
As someone who has received death threats myself, I know how scary it can feel to think that someone wants you dead. It’s enough to tempt you to don a bulletproof vest every morning and look twice before you walk out to your car at night. You think about hiring a bodyguard. You avoid telling people where you live. Your heart races in dark alleys. If you let it, fear could paralyze you.
But Gabrielle Giffords chose not to let fear hold her back. Frankly, I’m with her. I choose to live fearlessly. Not recklessly, but fearlessly.
So how do you do that?
5 Tips For Overcoming Fear
- Assess whether the risk of danger is high. In Gabrielle Giffords’ case, the risk of an outcome like this was low — real, but low. Thousands of other public figures and politicians gather in public venues. Most of them don’t get shot. If the risk is genuinely high, you might want to take precautions to protect yourself. But don’t let fear paralyze you.
- If you’ve determined that the risk of genuine danger is low, free yourself from fear and let it go. Fear is inevitable, but letting it rule your decisions is a choice.
- Dissociate from your fear. Recognize that most fear comes from the brainstem — the primal part of your brain that aided in your survival from an evolutionary perspective. If you’re being chased by a cave bear, fear is a healthy response that fuels your fight-or-flight mechanism and gives you superpower strength so you can outrun the bear. But in modern life, you’re not usually being shot or chased by a cave bear, and fear will only hold you back.
- Be selective about whose opinion matters to you.Don’t worry about what everybody thinks. Narrow it down to a few select mentors — those who actively adore you and want nothing more than for you to live a joyful, remarkable life. Let go of caring about the opinions of everybody else.
- Prioritize authenticity, a sense of mission, and passion over fear. Stand for what you believe, even if it might be risky.
What do you think about what happened to Gabrielle Giffords? Could you be that courageous? Do you think she was reckless or brave for putting herself out there the way she did?
How do you overcome your fears? What wisdom do you have to share? We’d love to hear from you!