As is occasionally the case, this morning I found an odd connection between a humorous picture posted online by an acquaintance and a story about one of the sports I happen to follow somewhat closely (boxing). In both cases the question of fear and danger looms large. Let us, as is my fashion, discuss the two cases and what kind of parallels can be drawn between them as well as any sort of larger understanding that may be worthwhile to think about in terms of fear and its effects on our lives. For those of us who have to wrestle with fear, both our fears and the fears that other people have (whether those fears or reasonable or not), it is worthwhile to use such examples as are not personal to deal with the larger issues at stake.
Boxers are often reputed to be brave people. It takes a certain amount of courage to stand in a ring and spar with someone who is trying to punch your lights out, after all. Nevertheless, despite that bravery (much of which is folly, I suppose, if you reflect upon the brain damage and other long-term health problems suffered by those in fighting sports, and sports in general), there is also a certain amount of cowardice when it comes to boxing. A perfect example of that happened last night. A supremely talented boxer named Gennady Golvkin liver-punched one of the top middleweights in the world and knocked him out last night . Normally this would be considered a good thing, as casual boxing fans greatly enjoy knockouts and those fighters who can knock out others well can achieve a legendary status among fans for their entertainment value (regardless of how barbaric one considers the entertainment value of people bashing each other so).
The problem is in the cowardice of other fighters (or, more commonly, their promoters) when it comes to dealing with boxers. One of the main reasons why boxing has declined greatly in popularity is the fact that the best fighers in the world generally only seek out opponents that they are favored to win, unless they are shamed enough by the desire of another competitor that they are able to make a deal with someone they still think they have a better than even chance to beat. Given the dominance of Golovkin and the fact that he has been dogged throughout his career by the accusation that he has not fought challenging or talented opponents, the promoters who manage those talented and high-ranking fighters will probably continue to run scared in the knowledge that it might be possible to slander him for a lack of competition when they are the ones hindering that competition from taking place. It’s sort of a catch-22 situation, as it is hard to prove oneself without a stiff challenge and those capable of providing a stiff challenge are often unwilling to risk defeat.
This is not only true in realms of boxing, but (perhaps not-coincidentally) in matters of warfare. In the 1980’s, it was thought that the United States had started to overcome the troubles of Vietnam by victory in Grenada. Vietnam, to be honest, was quite an ambitious nation for the United States to be involved in, given its size and lengthy history of fighting foreign foes and the tepid enthusiasm for the conflict, especially as body counts went higher. Generally speaking, for conflicts to be successful, the ends must be clearly understood, the means must be applied to serve those ends, and the sacrifice in blood and treasure must not be too high unless the war is in direct response to a hostile act from another state, and where anger at an unprovoked attack can be sustained for a long period. These aims are helped when one’s opponent fighting at a disadvantage (far from home with a long logistical train) or simply is overmatched. After all, while Vietnam was (and is) a capable nation as far as a military is concerned, Grenada offers no significant challenge to a nation of the stature of the United States. Fighting cupcakes is not limited to boxing, after all, or SEC football scheduling.
There are other times, though, where there is no fear in situations where there should be a lot of fear. An acquaintance of mine posted up an appropriate picture for this situation, where a foolish young man was drinking some champagne in bed with the wife of a man who was returning home up the stairs with a wall of Japanese weapons close to him. The picture contained the appropriate caption “This will not end well.” And it will not end well, as neither the wayward adulterous wife nor the foolish young man showed sufficient fear of the anger of a man who has been betrayed. Sometimes fear is not a bad thing, if it leads us to treat others with consideration and respect in light of their capacity to cause harm. If our fear leads us to act unkindly or in an unloving fashion out of an irrational and inaccurate thought of their intentions or characters, that is a much less pleasant matter.
There are times in life where we have legitimate fear, and that legitimate fear cuts against our own claims of being courageous and brave, and times where we have unnecessary or illegitimate fear of what will not happen, and other times where we do not have fear where a bit (or a lot) of caution would be wise and appropriate. What is and what is not appropriate and legitimate often depends very precisely on the circumstances at hand, and often in our confidence about how a given situation is going to turn out. In life we can find ourselves to judge our own capabilities and the character of others too meanly, or be too bold and reckless in putting ourselves in harm’s way. All too often, though, the caption of our lives could read, “This will not end well,” and be rather accurate, whether we are too cowardly or too reckless.