The Difference Between Danger and Fear

The reason why fear has such a strong influence over our decisions and, consequently, our lives is because of the misleading idea that fear keeps us out of danger.

The Difference Between Danger and Fear
Me confronting danger and fear while hiking Grandfather Mountain in Linville, NC

The 'lie' in Belief

Fear is defined as an unpleasant emotion caused by the belief that someone or something is dangerous, likely to cause pain, or a threat. The reason why fear has such a strong influence over our decisions and, consequently, our lives is because of the misleading idea that fear keeps us out of danger. In my last newsletter, I spoke about the difference between faith and belief, with belief being something that is grounded in expectations and a hope that the future will match what we already believe to be true. Fear is also a belief grounded in expectations, but instead of it being a belief we hope will come true, it's a belief we hope will not come true.

I saw a quote years ago on Instagram that said, "The things we fear the most have already happened to us," and I found it so profound because it proves that it's impossible to be afraid of the unknown. What we are actually afraid of is something, or an imagined variation of something, that we've already experienced and don't want to experience again. This understanding should shift our perspective on fear. Instead of seeing it as a protective mechanism that shields us from future dangers, we should recognize it as a mental construct that ties us to past traumas. In fact, fear is always grounded in thoughts about what has happened in the past or what might happen in the future. This alone should make it clear to us that fear and danger are not the same because danger can only be experienced in the present.

Guess how many screenshots of interesting/inspiring quotes I have in my gallery lol

If your doctor told you that you have terminal cancer and only have a year to live, you would likely immediately feel fear and begin thinking about all the things you won't be able to accomplish in this lifetime. However, you wouldn't feel in danger because there is no immediate threat. On the other hand, if you were standing in line at a bank and someone walked in with a mask and a gun demanding everyone to empty their pockets, you likely wouldn't feel fear in that moment. Instead, you would react instinctively to ensure your safety, probably by complying with the gunman's demands. This example clearly illustrates the difference between fear and danger: when you are in fear, you are often lost in thoughts and worries about what might happen. Conversely, when you are in danger, you are inspired to take immediate action to protect yourself from harm. Fear paralyzes you with possibilities, while danger compels you to act in the present moment.

Gimme the Loot! 🔪

During Christmas break of my sophomore year in college, I was home in Laurens, SC, which is about an hour from where I went to college in Columbia, SC. I found myself wanting to buy a new phone for Christmas. Being a broke college student, I couldn't afford to get the phone I wanted from the store and instead opted to search Craigslist, hoping someone would be selling the phone I wanted. Laurens is a small and relatively poor town, so I knew I wouldn't find the phone there and instead searched Columbia's Craigslist, the biggest city in SC, for the phone I wanted. Fortunately, I found someone selling the exact phone I wanted for much less than its retail value. It seemed too good to be true, so I reached out to the seller, asked him why he was selling it so cheaply, got a good enough answer, and a couple of days later, I drove down to Columbia to his apartment with most of the money I had to my name to buy the phone. I didn't feel in danger at all leading up to our meeting. This was mostly because I had the guy's name and phone number, I'd spoken to him on the phone, and he sounded 'white' (which shouldn't mean anything, but it did). Additionally, I was meeting him in broad daylight at a very populated apartment complex that I was familiar with, as it housed many people I went to school with.

When I pulled up to the apartment he gave me, something felt off. However, being totally disconnected from my intuition at the time, I ignored my feeling and just sat in my car, blinded by my desire for a shiny new phone. Before long, a guy in a heavy black coat walked out of the apartment. He was a black guy, which was not what I was expecting based on the voice I'd heard on the phone. At this point, I started to become a little afraid because things were not playing out the way I had expected. He walked up to my car door and motioned for me to roll down my window. Although I was apprehensive, I did because I was shaken and not thinking clearly. As soon as I started to roll down my window, I heard the passenger door behind me open, and the next thing I knew, I was being held in a chokehold against the headrest of my car by someone I never saw. The guy who had originally motioned for me to roll down my window then opened my door and held a knife to my face, demanding that I give him everything I had.

The phone I risked my life for, the 'OG Droid'! I HAD to have it and eventually, I did have it 😌

In the moments leading up to the robbery, I was afraid. I was afraid that I'd made a bad decision. I was afraid that I'd wasted my time. I was afraid that I was about to be scammed. I was afraid that I wasn't going to get the phone I desired so badly. But during the moments when I was actually being robbed, I felt no fear at all. I didn't think at all. I had no time to fear or think because the entirety of my focus immediately went towards listening to what was being demanded of me and complying so I didn't get poked. They took everything I had: my wallet, my phone, and about $250 in cash but, thankfully, they didn't take my car keys before they ran off. As soon as I looked around and saw that the coast was clear, I started my car and drove out of the apartment complex parking lot as quickly as possible while still trying to process what had happened. I couldn't call the police or anyone else for help because they had my phone, but as fate would have it, I pulled up next to a cop at a red light not far from the complex. I waved him down, told him what happened, and filed a police report.

From there, I stopped by my dorm room to get an old phone that I'd left there and called my mom to tell her what happened. I could tell that she was shocked by what I said and, because of that, couldn't offer much emotional support and instead said to me, "Just come home, Mikey." Up to this point, I hadn't felt fear again, but on the ride home, I started to become fearful that my mother would shame me when I got home for my poor choices. I became fearful of the fact that these thieves knew where I lived and had all my card information. I was afraid of whether they would retaliate against me or my family once they found out I went to the police. I feared that my brother, cousins, and boys would think I was a punk for 'allowing' myself to be robbed without fighting back.

The danger was over, which made the fear return. But what's important to note is that the fear only returned because I was no longer in danger. See, in order to be afraid, you have to be safe. If you were not safe, you wouldn't have the space, time, or energy to devote to being afraid. Ironically, we cling to fears because we assume they make us safer, but in reality, they don't — they only expose us to further danger by paralyzing us and preventing us from taking the action that would actually make us safer. What actually makes us safe is instinct, the thoughtless intelligence that naturally arises in the face of true danger. In my opinion, physical safety is an illusion. Danger is always around us. Death is never some 'far off possibility' that it can be avoided by making thoughtful decisions; it is actually always right here. Few people wake up on the day they are going to die or be seriously injured knowing that it is going to happen. That being said, instinct, intuition, and grace are the only things that provide a sense of safety in a reality where danger is ever present. I don't say this to scare you but to hopefully inspire you to release the burden of your fears and the belief that holding on to them will produce a more secure life. Fears never make us safe so much as they make us stuck.


The guys who robbed me eventually got caught, tried, convicted, and sentenced to 10 years in federal prison within months of the robbery. Despite this, I continued to live in fear. Every time I went to a club or a house party, I wondered if I'd run into someone who knew and loved the people I'd put in jail, if they'd recognize me from the trial, and if they would want to retaliate. To my surprise, the guy who orchestrated the robbery had a huge support system at the trial. I remember feeling conflicted when I showed up to testify and saw his mother crying incessantly in the audience at the potential of 'her baby' being locked up. Several people from his community came to speak on his behalf, saying he was a good kid who made a bad choice and deserved a second chance. I was the victim, but I wasn't the only victim. Though I didn't harm his family directly, I felt bad that they were having to suffer too.

About five years later, the two guys went up for parole, and the victim advocate reached out to me to ask if I wanted to make a statement to the judge as to why I thought they shouldn't be paroled. I did make a statement, but instead of asking the judge to keep them in prison, I asked that they be released. This was largely due to my mother's illness opening my heart and consequently making me more compassionate toward everyone, even those who had wronged me. It was also influenced by the Black Lives Matter movement gaining momentum around that time, which had opened my eyes to the impact of systemic racism on the choices many people in my community made. Honestly, this made me feel that the guy who robbed me was as much a victim of a crime as I was. However, the biggest reason I asked the judge to release my assailant was that I no longer wanted to live in fear. For years, I'd fantasized that this guy was in his prison cell planning revenge on me for testifying against him, and I was tired of carrying that burden. In the off chance that he was actually planning to hurt me again, so be it. I'd rather live my life freely and face the danger of him confronting me in the moment, if and when it ever happened, than carry the fear-based anxiety birthed from my imagination of its potential.

You Only Have To Do This Once

Today is the 8th anniversary of my mother's passing, and though I think of her every day, today I'm reflecting on the events that transpired shortly after I watched her draw her last breath. One of the funeral home workers who arrived to take my mom's body away was an old family friend who I've known for most of my life. When he saw me, he approached me, gave me a hug, and whispered in my ear, "This is the hardest thing you'll ever have to do in your life, but you only have to do it once." I remember this simple truth giving me so much peace in that moment. He was right—the time leading up to my mother's passing and when it actually happened had been the hardest thing I've ever had to deal with in my life. But the fact that it was finally ending, even if that ending meant losing my mother in her current form, brought a lot of peace. Since the fear had finally been realized, there was no longer any need to hold onto it. There was no need to constantly torture myself with thoughts of what life would be like when it finally happened. Since the fear had been realized, there was no more paralysis around how I should live my life going forward.

Delores 'Dee Dee' Irby, Earth side January 17, 1966 - June 23, 2016 💜

And that's the interesting thing about fear: it's there because we've already experienced the thing we're afraid of, and once we intentionally face it, we will never experience it the same way again. The chronic anxiety I felt around losing my mother, romantic partners, and friends can be traced to being abandoned by my father when I was little and the suppressed belief that everyone who claimed to love me would eventually leave me. Being forced to face losing my mother and other people I love dearly has helped me heal that chronic anxiety because it has allowed me to consciously realize that, though I may lose the physical presence of someone I love, the love itself never goes anywhere. The eagerness my father has around being in my life these days is proof that he always desired me but had shadows within himself that prevented him from experiencing and expressing that desire when I was little. The fact that I feel my mother's love now more than I ever did when she was alive is proof that, although time will eventually destroy all forms, love, being both timeless and formless, is unaffected by change—even if that change looks like a dangerous, uncertain, and permanent ending. My strongest argument for abandoning fear is that it has absolutely no good use, and if we can learn to differentiate between imagined fear and actual danger, we'll find that the power that both of these forces has over us becomes less and less significant and by being less influenced by fear and danger, we naturally become more free to live lives that are more adventurous, exciting, meaningful, and fulfilling.

Growth Challenge: Contact Tracing Fears

In your journal, list out your top five biggest fears. For each fear, trace its source to a specific instance in your life. If you find it difficult to identify the source, try to recall the first time you remember experiencing this fear. Once you have each fear listed, determine whether it is tied to a present danger or if it is derived from a danger that never existed or no longer exists.

Challenge Steps:

  1. Identify Your Fears: List the top five fears that frequently occupy your thoughts. Be honest and specific about what you fear.
  2. Trace the Source: For each fear, try to pinpoint a specific instance or experience in your life that contributed to this fear. If it's hard to find a specific event, think back to the first time you remember feeling this fear.
  3. Analyze the Fear:
    • Ask yourself if this fear is related to a real and immediate danger.
    • Consider whether the fear is based on past experiences or future anxieties that may not be relevant anymore.
  4. Reflect on the Present: Determine if each fear is tied to a present danger or if it is an imagined threat. Recognize that many fears are not based on current reality but on past traumas or future uncertainties.
  5. Take Action:
    • For fears that are not related to present dangers, challenge yourself to take a small step towards confronting them. For example, if you fear public speaking, start by speaking up in a small group or recording yourself talking.
    • For any fear tied to a present danger, devise a practical plan to address and mitigate the risk.

What's Been Going On With Me?

I'm feeling mentally exhausted and in dire need of some sort of hard reset. The common prescription to remedy what I'm feeling is a vacation of some sort but I'm apprehensive about vacations because traveling often leaves me feeling more drained than I was while at home. I'm also in dire need of some human contact. I've been playing basketball with the guys I met at the court consistently for a few weeks now and it's been great to fellowship and compete but it's also not quite the type of intimate contact that I feel like would help me recharge. I haven't had a good hug since before I moved to Pittsburgh and though I've thought about trying to date here, when being honest with myself, I'm not really interested in dating at the moment. I'm not quite emotionally available to genuinely be able to open up to someone else and haven't been open to the idea of casual (read: meaningless) sex since 2016. One of the drawbacks of becoming more aware of your own energy is that you no longer feel as free to exchange and take on the energy of others so recklessly. And quite frankly, I only want intimate relationships with people who are hand delivered to me by God, at this particular point in my life. We'll see. I may just end up going hiking somewhere nearby but I'm sure that a trip of some sort is on the horizon and when it happens, I'll be sure to share it with you.

As a heads up, I do plan on publishing something next week but it won't be a themed newsletter because I'm giving myself a break for hitting the half-way point of accomplishing my goal of publishing a newsletter every week this year. I hope the newsletters of this month have inspired you in some way, shape, or form to confront and overcome your fears and I appreciate you being an audience to me processing and releasing many of my own.

With love,

Micheal Sinclair 💜