The posts in this series so far have all been about valuable qualities for a human to have. I have tried to stress the importance of each quality, that none should be forgotten, and that we should work to exemplify them in our daily lives. As a passive reader, perhaps you have taken it all in, perhaps you have thought to yourself, this blogger has some good things to say and I agree with him. While it is great to keep wise thoughts and words in your head, as long as they remain just in your head they are useless. They must be actionable. This is the importance of courage. Courage is all about “doing”. Nobody goes around saying “I’m courageous”. You would simply be seen as a boaster and probably a liar if you went around saying this everywhere. People expect you to show it. It is something that cannot be proven by words alone. As a result courage is as important as any other quality in a good human, and because it is about doing some might consider it to be the most important.
So what is courage? For many courage is about physical courage. They apply it to soldiers, police, firefighters, etc. These are people who still do their duty or job at great physical risk to themselves. And I have no doubt that many of the men and woman exemplify courage that do these jobs, but there are other moments when many other people may show physical courage. Trying to finish a marathon when your body feels like it can’t move another muscle could be considered courageous. Courage is not only defined by overcoming physical threats, there is also moral courage; a courage to act rightly, do as your principles guide you, and being true to who you are, despite what opposition, shame, or discouragement you may face. In either case we can see that courage is about overcoming the fear that prevents us from acting on what we think is right. Whether we value doing our job and duty putting out a dangerous fire and trying to save lives, or whether it is fighting unfair laws, coming out to your family and friends as gay, coming out to your family and friends as atheist, making yourself vulnerable to someone you love deeply, forgiving someone who has hurt you, or ending a relationship that you know isn’t right for you. And in many cases displaying moral courage can incur physical harm also, as I am sure many LGBT people can tell you once they came out of the closet. It is important to remember also that while courage is a matter of degrees it is often difficult to judge how much courage one has for any particular action. Someone who is afraid of the water may exhibit just as much courage taking that first step into the pool as a soldier takes taking his or her first step on to the battlefield.
For most of us, including myself, there are many things that we think are important and yet we’ve done very little to show they are important. I think we’ve all had times where we knew something was important and right, but didn’t act on it. This is a surefire way to build regrets in your life. So it’s one thing to agree and say “yes play is important, I need to incorporate more of that into my life”, but if you aren’t putting that idea into something actionable it isn’t going to be much help to you or anybody else. Gandhi famously said “Be the change you wish to see in the world”. If you can’t exemplify the things you think are important, this, in my opinion, is due to a lack of courage. I know this sounds critical, but I am probably far more critical of my own lack of courage than anyone else. While I think I am a decent person, I want to always grow and become better, and I know that part of the reason why I wrote this series and put it out there is because I want to make sure I hold myself to the standard I am setting. I also understand fear, and how paralyzing it can be. There are very real reasons to be afraid of the consequences of our actions even if they are the right ones. What if a good friend of yours committed a crime? Would you report them knowing that what they did is wrong? Would it depend on the severity of the crime? Would it depend on how much history you have with that person? How much you loved them? What about the repercussions of other friends or family in the circle? It may also be your principle to protect the people you love no matter what, and for you keeping them out of jail might be what you consider protection. Therefore doesn’t it also require some courageous to fight that inner conflict and stick by your decision though it may be hard to forgive that person for the crime they committed? Our morality is often fraught with conflict and so doing what is right is often difficult. Courage isn’t always about doing the right thing in an absolute sense, but may also be just doing what you think is right. Of course at times we can be not just wrong, but very wrong.
But even if we do have it wrong, acting on what we think is right is in most cases not a bad thing, because courage also implies taking a risk. As I’ve blogged about before taking risks whether a success or failure, teaches us something about ourselves. It gives us new information which we can build on moving forward. If you never left your country and were nervous about doing so it takes courage to overcome that hesitation and have that brand new experience of travel and being somewhere totally foreign. You may find that you love it and find something new and exciting to add to your life. Or you might have gotten robbed and had a horrible experience and decide that maybe travel isn’t for you. Either way you’ve learned and you can focus what new experiences you seek elsewhere. Courage asks us to put aside our instinct to simply stay safe. At times staying safe is sensible, but dwell there for too long and we let fears rule our lives, we fail to grow, learn and become stagnant.
Just like it takes courage to act on the qualities I’ve discussed in this series, so do those qualities help our courage. Since we often fear what we don’t understand curiosity can help us make acts of courage not so daunting. But no amount of knowledge can ever really erase our fears. Even if what we learn is 100% correct it is human nature to experience something to really overcome our fears. I am sure the person who is hydrophobic would gain little from reading books about the safety of water. Our curious nature can also help us learn so that when we would do show courage we are acting not just what is right for us, but is also right for others and causes the least amount of harm. Courage, by itself, is largely a matter of perspective. Those who are more nationalistic put the courage of soldiers above all others. Terrorists in Al Qaeda probably think that those who died crashing their planes into their targets during 9/11 were also courageous. I am sure those who are strongly racist think that Roof was courageous for striking a blow against African-Americans. Except in an extreme crisis it important to think before we act. Courage being an action word implies that we must also think deeply about our principles. But without courage just thinking is not enough either. If this post or any other in this series so far has made you think then you are ready for the 8th and final quality to be posted in the not to distant future.