Action Catalyst Blog

THE BLACK DOOR – Dealing with Fear of the Unknown

the black door

The very first day I ever learned about Southwestern and began interviewing to work in the student program (way back when I was in college), they told me that the journey would require me to learn to master overcoming fear.

And they handed me a piece of paper to take home and read that night. From that day until this, I’ve never once forgotten about the unique lesson.

Here is what the paper said:

Several generations ago during one of the most turbulent of the desert wars in the Middle East, a spy was captured and sentenced to death by a general of the Persian army.

The general, a man of intelligence and compassion, had adopted a strange and unusual custom in such areas.

He permitted the condemned person to make a choice.

The prisoner could either face the firing squad or pass through the black door.

As the moment of the execution drew near, the general ordered the spy to be brought before him for a short, final interview.

The primary purpose was to receive the answer of the doomed man to the query: “What shall it be—the firing squad or the black door?”

This was not an easy decision and the prisoner hesitated, but he soon made it known that he much preferred the firing squad to the unknown horrors that might wait for him behind the ominous and mysterious door.

Not long thereafter, a volley of shots in the courtyard announced that the grim sentence had been fulfilled.

The general, staring at his boots, turned to his aide and said, “You see how it is with men: they will always prefer the known way to the unknown. It is a characteristic of people to be afraid of the undefined. Yet, I gave him his choice.”

“What lies beyond the black door?” asked the aide.

“Freedom,” replied the general, “and I’ve known only a few men brave enough to take it.”

Paraphrased from Don McCullough, Solana Beach, California, quoted in Leadership, Winter Quarter, 1992, p. 57.

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