Do We Really Teach Fearlessness?

"She was powerful, not because she wasn't scared but because she went on so strongly, despite the fear."

~ Atticus Finch, To Kill a Mockingbird

​​Even with the countless famous and classic tourist attractions in New York City, there’s one spot, in the middle of a busy intersection that’s so crowded you can’t even see what the fuss is all about until you work your way in.

And that’s the statue of Fearless Girl, and the charging bull she’s standing up to.

Why would swarms of tourists put up with snow or the blazing sun, traffic, crowds, and construction just to look at a relatively new statue that’s barely four feet tall?

Clearly, Fearless Girl is fulfilling a great need. And for many, she has become a role model.

But here’s the thing. We honestly have trouble believing that “Fearless Girl” is actually fearless. Brave? Yes. Assertive? Absolutely. (We'd be really happy if her name were changed to "Assertive Girl.")

Of course she’s scared. Who wouldn’t be afraid of a raging bull charging towards them?

And think about this. Would you really want to be around somebody who wasn’t afraid of a charging bull?

Fear is a completely legitimate emotion, and its function is to keep us safe and grounded. Fear shouldn’t be ignored, and certainly isn’t a flaw.

If Fearless Girl felt no fear, would she even realize that the bull is a danger?

The decision to defend ourselves means making the decision to give it our all, with no hesitation. Rather than push fear away, we need to acknowledge it and find a way to function in spite of it.

And self-defense classes can be scary.

Ellen Snortland, author and filmmaker of Beauty Bites Beast: The Missing Conversations About Ending Violence, shared with us that before her first self-defense class, “I was afraid that I would be frozen and/or weeping all the time. And indeed, I did freeze and I did weep and I defended myself anyway!”

(Read more stories about overcoming fear in the comments of this Facebook post:)

“I can’t do that,” she said. “I’ll freak out.”

But the teacher told her to “just try.” The exercise was indeed terrifying for her, and it didn’t get less scary the next few times she tried it. But she learned that the fear didn’t lessen her ability, and each time she did it, she yelled louder and she felt a sense of triumph.

In empowerment self-defense classes, we do a lot of confidence building exercises and constantly find ways to remind our students of their strength and wipe out their self-doubt. We’ve heard critics dismiss these activities as “fluffy” or claim they’re “self-help.”

​​But all of our confidence building activities are as much about safety as any strike or kick.

Self-doubt is visible in our eyes and can negatively affect our physical strength. In fact, we can often predict, just from looking into a student’s eyes, if they’ll be able to successfully break a board.

In other words, we don’t teach students not to have fear. We help them develop the confidence and skills to maximize their mental and physical strength even in life’s scariest situations.

As our president and found Yehudit Zicklin-Sidikman put it, ""ESD training provides skills to help manage fear so that we can respond in an empowered way to all of the little things that happen in life, which we’ll hopefully never need for an emergency. But it’s important to have the tools just in case."

We believe that the mass appeal of “Fearless Girl” is that she has the courage and ability to work through her fear and assert herself. The boundary she’s setting with nothing but body language and sheer will is so intense you can almost see it. She may be afraid, but she means business and doesn’t doubt herself.

And the bull knows it.

Let her be an example to us all!

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