Fearless Cat, photographed by Crazy Ivory

Balancing act: unafraid and in control (Photo by Crazy Ivory).

I recently read in a recruitment post: “We want someone who is fearless,” it said. Aside from the fact that I found this a rare requirement in job descriptions, I was intrigued past the possibilities it suggested in terms of the employer. What does it mean to be fearless? In aggregate, is it a good thing, or really not so much?

At its most basic level, nature has built fear in for a reason: for protection. Humans, animals, insects (possibly plants, depending on who you believe) have a built-in aversion to things that may cause harm, or worse yet, prematurely conclude … let’s call it “the living experience.”

The most common definition of fear, as per Merriam Webster, is “to be afraid or apprehensive.” Okay, that sounds negative. Fearlessness, by those standards, is definitely a desirable trait, something to be sought out. But what follows next: “an unpleasant, often strong emotion caused by anticipation or awareness of danger.”

Okay, well, anyone who doesn’t feel a tingly warning at the onset of danger is, pretty much, an idiot. Fearlessness, in its most literal sense, is maybe not so undesirable after all. Or at least not in a black-and-white way. And then there’s the fact that the commonly accepted meaning of fearless has little to do with the “absence of all fear.” Google “fearless” and you find the handy synonyms “bold, brave, intrepid, courageous, valiant, gallant, plucky, lionhearted, heroic, daring, audacious, indomitable, doughty…” (this last, I’d never heard of. Pronounced dow-tee, it conveys “fearless resolution”). We’re back in plus territory.

I say this as someone who is frequently described as fearless, but wonders if when people toss the term around they’re in fact only referring to the good things. People who are “bold, brave, intrepid” also tend to be “opinionated, pushy, stubborn” and even “insensitive.” Remember that saying, “the truth hurts”? That can often be the case. Then there’s also “What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger.” Unpleasant truths can be tonic, helpful hints on the path to self-improvement that the average fearful soul won’t volley back ‘atcha for fear — be it rational or irrational — of repercussion.

It’s a fine line one walks between candor and dial it down. (Please keep this public service announcement for fearlessness in mind when bristling at some unpleasantry; is there a point to it?)

The most fearless thing I can recall doing involved physical fear: I broke up a fistfight between a groom and his bride at a wedding reception wherein he actually began pulling her hair and slugging her on the dance floor. It was horrific. Onlookers gaped. I jumped in, and while I didn’t lay a hand to “pull him off her” I approached and began firmly shouting at him to stop. He did, but it could have gone another way: I afraid he would start pummeling me.  I don’t recall how things went, trying to get back to “enjoying” the party. I think his new wife had a black eye. That few moments, however, is for me frozen in time.

To be “fearless” implies having fear to overcome. In a world free of danger there would be no fearless.