Best we can tell, our dog was born in the middle of June, so we celebrate her birthday on June 15th. Happy 4th birthday, Radar O’Reilly!

I remember being afraid before we adopted her. I was afraid of the attachment, having owned dogs before and knowing that eventually dogs pass away. I knew that getting a puppy meant loving something that would eventually leave me. It’s terrifying, and it’s easy to avoid attachment when you’re terrified.

Recently I had rewatched Christopher Nolan’s Batman movies, a series I’m fairly certain my dog hasn’t watched. In it, as in most modern stories written about Batman, fear places a central role. For Batman, he saw normal citizens living in fear from corrupt men in positions of power, and he wanted to turn that fear against those men. His goal was to take fear, a weapon used by those in power who felt no fear, and use that fear against them. In return, it would teach the ordinary citizens that they didn’t need to fear those men any longer.

Yeah, it’s sort of convoluted. People are afraid so we’ll use fear to teach them they don’t have to be afraid. Fighting fire with fire in a very specific sense.

In the third movie of the series, The Dark Knight Rises, Bruce Wayne has had his body broken and is throw into a prison at the bottom of a pit. The only way out is to “rise” out of the pit, in this case by climbing a very small and treacherous series of rocks that only one person has ever actually done. A prisoner in the pit with him tells him that he won’t get out because he lacks the most powerful impulse of the spirit: the fear of death.

There’s definite truth to the way fear is portrayed in these movies, as the fear of death can in many ways be a way to move faster than possible, fight longer than possible, like the old prisoner says. However, the most accurate portrayal of fear in the movies has to be the weaponization of fear, because we see it all around us all the time.

We are taught from the start of our lives that we should be afraid. To an extent, there are healthy examples of good fear in these lessons, such as avoiding things that are hot that will burn you or avoiding heights that you could get hurt from by falling. Essentially, we are taught at some point what safety is, and safety is a reaction to fear.

That’s where things get truly dangerous. Our basic understanding of safety leads us to an unending search for safety. It is natural for us to look for things that make us feel safe, and we spend the rest of our lives pursuing that. We pursue more physical comforts, we pursue more physical wealth, and we pursue more people exactly like us because that’s what we view as being safe.

We teach ourselves to be afraid of things that are different, people who are different, and then we allow those fears to control us. Turn on any 24-hour news channel and you see that our world profits in a market of fear. Business is good.

Growing up in the South, and then choosing to stay here as an adult, is something I’m passionate about because it’s something that has taught me to stand up to my fears. If you grow up in the South, you’re told whenever you turn on the TV or talk to somebody who isn’t from the South that you are stupid, hateful, and less than them. It’s a simple truth that regions of the country are different than each other and the South is often an easy target for jokes. I get that.

The same goes the other way: I tell people that my wife is from the Pacific Northwest and they want to tell me all about those crazy West Coast Liberals who are ruining things. It goes every which way.

Keep in mind that many of the people with the strongest opinions about the South or the West Coast have never been to either place. Why would they? It’s different to them, and that scares them.

I heard a specific comment from a friend not long ago that hinted toward this fact. They weren’t sure about moving somewhere different because they knew there weren’t as many people there who agreed with them politically. I have coworkers who tell me that they can’t imagine living where I live, in the city while they live in the suburbs, because they can’t deal with the politics there. It has nothing to do with agreements or disagreements, because if they ever had a one-on-one talk with somebody that they thought they totally disagreed with, they’d discover that they’re not sitting across the table from somebody trying to control them with fear, they’re sitting across from a human being. They don’t realize that by sitting and having a chat with me, they’re doing the very thing they’re afraid of and talking with somebody they disagree with.

That’s because I disagree with everyone, but that’s neither here nor there.

Fear is a strong motivator, that is true. But fear is a bad motivator. Safety can be nice, but safety is a prison.

Bravery is a concept that used to be lauded, but as of late is misunderstood. We think that bravery has to do with standing up to those who are different to us, defending ourselves against these strange marauders who are less human than us because we disagree on stupid political topics that won’t matter within a short amount of time.

The words of Nelson Mandela come to mind: “I learned that courage was not the absence of fear, but the triumph over it. The brave man is not he who does not feel afraid, but he who conquers that fear.”

I can get very afraid of attachment, because I know that eventually the things, places, people, and pets that you are attached to will leave. The modern take on “bravery” would tell me that the brave thing to do is to avoid attachment, and it couldn’t be more false.

The bravest thing I can do with my fear of attachment is to love more deeply. The bravest thing I can do with my fear of failure is to try more and harder. The bravest thing I can do with my fear of those who are different is to spend more time understanding them. The bravest thing I can do with my faith is to try to live like Jesus, who loved people wherever they were and then told them to go and sin no more.

That’s ultimately where those Batman movies gets it right again: Bruce Wayne is terrified of bats, and that’s why he adopts them as his symbol. He truthfully isn’t using fear, he’s conquering it. Even in the third movie, as Bruce rises from the pit, bats startle and scare him on his climb, showing that even after years of using them as a tool, he’s still afraid. The fear doesn’t control him. After all, why do we fall? So we can learn to pick ourselves up.

So happy birthday (probably) to my dog, named after a character in a show that went off the air long before I was born. You’re a constant remind to keep rising up when I fall and want to stay in my fear. Fear is a stupid thing. I am always thankful that I get the chance to love you every day that you are here with us.

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