Sebastian Junger’s thoughts on fear

“Fear is essential for courage,” according to John F. Murray. Travelers prove their courage daily on the road, dealing with unknown and rapidly changing situations, often encountering an unsavory soul or two along the way.

Sebastian Junger knows fear. As a reporter, he has covered many volatile situations and frequently reports from many world hotspots, including his coverage of guerilla war in Afghanistan, LURD rebel fighters in Liberia, Bosnian war, and war crimes in Kosovo. He is perhaps best known for his 1997 book (and the subsequent movie), The Perfect Storm, about the 1991 loss of the Andrea Gail fishing vessel off the coast of Nova Scotia. Before he became a journalist, Junger worked in another high-adrenaline line of work, tree climbing and removal, until a chainsaw injury sidelined him.

In this audio interview, with National Geographic’s World Talk he discusses the role of fear in his life, including a harrowing checkpoint in Sierra Leone where his car was stopped by the ultra-violent “Westside Boys” gang and he feared that his life would soon end.

Junger writes about that checkpoint stop in his article for National Geographic Adventure:

It’s an odd paradox of being human that a feeling we are neurologically wired to avoid at all costs is also one that we covet so highly. No other animal intentionally puts itself at risk for thrills. I don’t think people would climb mountains or jump off bridges with parachutes or kayak Class V rapids if those things didn’t offer the brief and horrible illusion of imminent death. They would just be complicated, time-consuming endeavors that we’d steer well clear of because they got in the way of real life. Instead, we have the feeling that they are real life, that everything else—the day-to-day routines that take up most of our time—are somehow less important. It’s as if the value of an experience rises exponentially with the risk it poses to your life….I don’t point this out to glorify risk-taking or even apologize for it. In some ways, risk-taking is the ultimate act of self-indulgence, an obscene insult to the preciousness of life. And yet, how can one dismiss something that persists despite every reasonable theory that it shouldn’t?

Though most travelers will (hopefully) not come face to face with an ultra-violent, heavily-armed gang, they still face many fears while traveling, from mustering the courage to leave in the first place to dealing with the hazards and dangers along the way. Fear is part of travel. Conquering that fear is also part of the journey. Junger is a master of this skill, and the average traveler can learn a lot from his insight.

Posted by | Comments (1)  | May 17, 2007
Category: Notes from the collective travel mind

One Response to “Sebastian Junger’s thoughts on fear”

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