A healthy fear of death

Dave Gutteridge
6 min readJul 3, 2019

During a drunken conversation at a bar, I mention that I’m terrified of dying. My friend says that this is no good, I need to alleviate myself of that fear. Fear is bad, fear holds you back.

But I disagree. I think fear can propel you. I tell him of a concept that I can’t remember if I came up with it or not, but it’s that good and bad feelings can be like the two pointers on a compass. The positive tell you which way to go, the negative tells you which way to move away from. Both combine to give you the right direction, so long as you are properly oriented.

My friend can concede enough to say that my metaphor is decent and at least creates a reasonable outlook. But, he can’t quite get to accepting that fear, and negativity in general, can be a good thing. If he were to coach me, since being a sort of life coach is an ambition of his, he would try to cultivate the negativity and fear out of me. Try and make it so that I am positive in everything.

But it’s not that I lack the facilities to do that, it’s that I adamantly believe that fear is a good thing, if done right.

If a hungry polar bear were to suddenly come into the room, being afraid of it is a very good thing. Same if someone pulls a gun on you. Or if you might lose all your money and go hungry. Or lots of things. So long as your fear is channeled in a way that makes you figure out which way to run from the polar bear and not just freeze into inaction, then your fear is doing you a service. It’s all in how you channel it.

Fear is maybe the most fundamental motivator of all life, even predating sex as an impetus to action. The most primary cells or strands of proteins or whatever it was that floated around in primordial oceans, had something in them that tried not to blithely float into underwater lava vents. Any proto-life that didn’t have that function drifted into boiling water and disappeared from the evolutionary tree. It wasn’t that ancient and primitive life forms developed fear and that kept them alive. It was that they followed the impulses that kept them alive, and later that impulse took on nuance that we now identify as fear.

Fear can go wrong on us because we’re so much more complicated, and so is the world around us, so it’s not just as easy as backing off from the heat source that…

Dave Gutteridge

I write thought-provoking pieces on ethics, relationships, and philosophy with honesty and vulnerability, often inspired by experiences and pop culture.