Fear in a Small Glass

When notorious gangster boss of the Crow club Kaz Brekker shows up on Per Haskell’s doorstep, he immediately smells trouble. Despite Brekker enticing him with many “countable” reasons to partner up, Haskell declines. Everyone has heard that Brekker just blew up another rival’s club, and in Ketterdam, people don’t let grudges slide. Haskell likes his eyes in their sockets, and so he tells Brekker to scram.

“See, fear, in a smaller glass, is instinct. And you ain’t got no instinct,” he tells Brekker. Haskell knows a man with a lust for vengeance when he sees one, and he’s right. Brekker does not care about money or sacrifice. All he wants to do is make his enemies pay.

Had he really understood his own message, however, Haskell would have known better than to shun a man like Brekker. A person with nothing to lose rarely goes quietly, and so, soon enough, Brekker returns — and single-handedly beats up half a dozen of Haskell’s men before absorbing his entire crew into his own.

What this encounter from Shadow and Bone can teach us is that, yes, when it first rises from the back of our spine, fear can feel overwhelming. Adjust the dosage, however — pour it into a smaller glass — and you end up with the good sense to double-check, to “trust but verify,” and to make backup plans. That’s Haskell’s perspective.

Look at the event from Kaz’ point of view, however, and another, less intuitive takeaway emerges: Sometimes, even when fear is screaming at you at the top of its lungs, the best thing you can do is down the shot in one go and keep barreling along. Few ideals in life warrant an “at all costs” policy, but for the ones that do, hesitation can be akin to giving up altogether.

Fear is as natural as breathing. Like our oxygen cycle, however, it is also something we can analyze and control. We can prod it, prompt it, or question it. We can ratchet it up or dial it down. And if need be, we can even give it the finger and keep running right towards our ultimate destination.

Wherever it catches you, look your fear in the eye and ask: Is this the Kool-Aid I need to drink a whole jug of right now? Or should it go into a smaller glass? Can I pour it out? Or down it in one go? Fear is not the main character. You are — and if you play yours right, you can accomplish goals even as daring as walking into your enemy’s club and taking over the whole show.