Courage and cowards

Lately there’s been a bunch of talk about fear. And cowards.

Most of it by those who understand the meaning of the words; how the emotion of fear can lead to the pathetic action of cowardice. A FOX News personality calls out Robin Williams as a coward. Another conservative exposes the fear of what his battle with substance abuse hides with a nonsensical rant about the darkness of liberals. Is it fear driving cowards to make bad decisions? I think so. But smarter people than I say that things like that are just callous opportunists doing what callous opportunists do. Whichever way you slice it, it stinks of the coward’s approach to behavior, so, ergo – cowards and fear.

All this singing about cowards makes me wonder, though – what is it to be the opposite, to be courageous? The dictionaries list it as “the ability to do something that you know is difficult or dangerous.” Wikipedia writers claim that “Courage is the ability and willingness to confront fear, pain, danger, uncertainty, or intimidation,” and the omnipresent Google reports through its Ngram viewer that the word Courage was used more in the 1800s than the 2000s. Interesting side note: The Google Books Ngram viewer also shows that the word Coward has enjoyed quite a resurgence in popularity since 1980. Maybe that’s indicative of growing calluses.

But back to it. What is it, and how do we know it when we see it… or feel it? Some people tell me that courage is not being afraid to act. To walk forward when fear tells you to stop. That may be true, but I also know that taking action can also be the coward’s way, right? Many people have shown extraordinary courage by not acting, by staying put and attempting to make good from an impossible situation. If you were served salty yak milk cooked over a dung fire, would it be courageous to stay and honor your host with a sip – or run screaming from the hut?

So courage is a slippery and steamy thing.

But I know that I see it all the time. Point in fact I see it every day and so do you. I saw it when my daughter was bucked off a horse just prior to her first competition, but got back on and performed with pride and precision. I witnessed it when a co-worker stood and spoke honest but unpopular words in a tense setting.

I see it all the time. Capturing it, however, is strangely difficult. I suppose I would say that courage is doing what you think is the right thing to do, and just sticking with the simplicity of that clear and unambiguous commitment to life, to your family and to yourself. Even when you’re wrong.

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