Courage manifests itself in ways both large and small. Courage does not always have to do with standing one’s ground or defending someone’s honor. There are many different forms of courage, and many ways that courage can be summoned and put to good use.
There was a time when courage used to be equated with not having fear, the act of not being scared in the face of danger, challenge, or adversity. This has been disproved many times by many great men and women of history. Such people have included acknowledged luminaries who range from revolutionary South African President Nelson Mandela, who stated, “I learned that courage was not the absence of fear, but the triumph over it. The brave man is not he who does not feel afraid, but he who conquers that fear.” to United States Army General George Smith Patton, Jr., who declared “Courage is fear holding on a minute longer.” to John Wayne, who uttered, “Courage is being scared to death but saddling up anyway.” (See references here…)
It is natural to tremble when something that holds the potential of danger comes before us. Many among us fear the unknown simply because what we cannot perceive can really prove to be beyond comprehension and utterly beyond us. However, despite the frailties that we all possess as human beings because we are not born with superpowers, we are all capable of summoning up the judgment for making a firm decision to hold on a minute longer, and to do what we may not be expected to do. The ability to accept fear as a logical emotion when we begin to experience trembling, perspiration, dryness of the mouth, and a rise in heart rate is already the beginning of courage. The ability to understand and interpret what we feel inside our frailness helps courage take form. Therefore, we start a series of changes that takes place within our heart, changes that allow us to take action. But first …
Courage – What it is, and What it is not
Courage or fortitude has been placed by Ancient Greek philosophy as one of the four cardinal virtues. Along with justice, temperance, and prudence, courage is considered a cardinal virtue since those who are gifted with it have the ability to sustain it even in times when the only natural instinct is to flee or to seek refuge and safety. People who have courage believe that holding on and keeping the fear bottled in is a far greater thing than aggressive attack or head-on, bullheaded recklessness.
Courage is defined as the “mental or moral strength to venture, persevere, and withstand danger, fear, or difficulty.” Courage is stimulated by fear, difficulty, and danger.
It is not the man with a gun that embodies the virtue of courage. It is the man that places himself in front of the gun that has courage, who tries to talk some sense into the person holding the gun, and eventually is proven to hold the even bigger gun.
It is not in the testosterone-driven macho guy who strides into a bar to defend a friend’s honor while in the relative safety of being with a number of others. It is in the confident yet calm tones of the person who encourages the friend to understand the situation and help in its quick resolution, with careful consideration and guidance.
Courage is manifested in so many ways, often unexpected and surprising for their sheer rarity and sensibility. It is not manifested in reckless judgment and an uncaring attitude, but in judgment that arises out of taking stock of the situation and devising a wisdom filled manner of resolving everything.
Examples of Real Courage
Men and women throughout history have succeeded at demonstrating courage in all its forms. Here, we pick out four examples of such admirable individuals whose courage has shown four subcategories of this cardinal virtue, which are bravery, perseverance, honesty, and zest.
Joan of Arc, who lived between 1412 and 1431, had firm common sense and a refreshing clearness of reality. That empowered her to persuade Charles VII to proceed to his coronation at Reims and claim his right to become king of all men. Tried for both heresy and political renunciation, Joan showed “presence of mind, humility, wit, and good sense” throughout her trial despite the danger of being labeled a relapsed heretic when she recanted her testimony. On May 30, 1431, she was burned at the stake, in the habitual area of execution at the Old Market Square (Place du Vieux-Marché) of Rouen in France. (See references here…)
American aviator Charles Augustus Lindbergh, who lived between 1902 and 1974, has been acknowledged for his groundbreaking feat of flying nonstop on a solo flight across the Atlantic Ocean. His great accomplishment, which happened on May 20 and 21, 1927, was carried out on board the Spirit of St. Louis. Flying from Roosevelt Field near New York City to Le Bourget Field near Paris, “Lucky Lindy,” as he was known, bravely flew alone across 3,600 miles in 33 1/2 hours, where several pilots had already been injured or killed. (See references here…)
Heroic firefighters, police and citizens who single-mindedly rushed into crumbling edifices to rescue as many people as they could in the September 11, 2011, terrorist attacks, also exemplified courage of a grand degree. Most notable along with these noble people were the passengers of the fourth hijacked airliner, which crashed in a field near Pittsburgh. Those brave men and women of United Airlines Flight 93 had anticipated that their plane was going to be used for an attack on yet another significant symbol of United States sovereignty (possibly the U.S. Capitol or the White House). The United Airlines Flight 93 passengers already knew they were on a doomed flight, but they decided to take matters into their own hands and not go down without a fight, and a good one at that. (See references here…)
Every day, there are many more acts of courage, grand or otherwise, which do not get all the attention they deserve but still remain great because of their unfathomable significance to us all.
Why Courage is Necessary
We all are capable of courage in the most unlikely times and the most unexpected situations. It is innate. We all have courage; all we need to do is to summon it up when needed. Courage is a skill that can be taught and learned. (See references here…)
Without it, we cannot have great leaders whose initiative and action, confidence in others, and voice all validate their ability to visualize, create and inspire others. Without courage, we will not have visionaries for greater things and even greater accomplishments. With more courage, there will be more people willing to take on harder or near impossible tasks, people more capable of dealing with change, people believing in the goodness of all men to perform above and beyond the call of duty.
With courage, we have had breakthroughs in science and medicine. Gifted individuals have been able to surmount all forms of challenges to discover and explore scientific boundaries and push the limits thereof. Courageous scientists have been able to say ‘we can” and “we will” amid ethical pessimism and superstitious claims of them playing God. Without their courage, we won’t have vaccines and other lifesaving devices that ultimately make the world a better place than what it was centuries ago.
Without courage, people like Rosa Parks would have continued to live in fear for themselves and their loved ones. Martin Luther King, Jr. wouldn’t have been able to stand up for equal rights. The American revolutionaries wouldn’t have fought for their freedom against Britain. UNICEF, the Red Cross, and the Peace Corps wouldn’t have been established as global movements to help the world and its inhabitants in myriads of ways. (See references here…)
It takes tremendous courage to overcome one’s personal difficulties in the manner that brilliant theoretical physicist Stephen Hawking does in helping non-scientists understand the most fundamental yet certainly the most befuddling questions on physics and our existence.
Without courage, our own mothers would not have been able to make a vow to nurture and protect us in whatever way they could.
We need courage because it makes the world a much better place to live. Courage allows us to survive, to wake up each day believing in the beauty of everything around us and in the potential that we and others around us possess to make the impossible possible, the insurmountable surmountable, and the complex less baffling.
We all need courage, and it is our duty to teach others about it and to learn from others about it.
How to Find Courage When it Seems Evasive or Missing
Although courage is a virtue we all inherently possess, there are certain instances when simply showing it proves a very difficult thing indeed. However, psychologists have tirelessly worked toward proving that we are capable of demonstrating courage in its various forms when we are placed in a specific setting.
The James-Lange theory suggests that when our senses receive stimulus from an outside object, a pattern of events is set off that eventually leads to an emotional experience, such as fear.
When we perceive danger from a bear, whether attacking or just within our vicinity, our somatic or visceral response is stimulated. We experience trembling, perspiration, a rise in heart rate, and dryness of the mouth. All these lead to our concluding that we are afraid.
The most likely impulse at that point is to run. With courage, however, we are able to assess the situation, maybe find a good hiding place like up a tree or prepare ourselves for a difficult and definite attempt to outsmart the bear.
Bears rarely attack, and the fatalities of bear attacks are even more uncommon. Moreover, there are great suggestions on how to escape from a bear for people who are able to keep their courage and sanity intact. Those steps tell us to steer clear of bears since doing so will not necessitate taking the other steps. Bears are reclusive creatures, keeping to themselves, and avoiding human contact as much as possible. Bears do not wish to be disturbed in their natural habitat, much as they do not wish to encroach on human territory. It would be well advised just to keep clear of them as a matter of mutual benefit.
When a bear charges, a person needs to make himself stand tall and not look frightened. While standing ground, the person needs to speak louder but in a deep and calm tone of voice while keeping an eye on the bear. It is not advisable to attempt direct eye contact with the creature as the bear will sense aggression with this. Waving your arms and making an effort to look bigger while attempting to “communicate” with the bear will most likely turn the bear away. Knowing the types of bears, their most common motivations for going into where you are (such as hunger, injury, or self-defense), acting appropriately according to the situation (lying flat and face down with all vital parts protected on the ground or throwing anything handy to fight or scare away the bear), and thinking well of last-minute escape maneuvers, will all go a long way to protecting oneself in case of meeting a bear. (See references here…)
What is essential in all these is to decide to keep level headed and not lost in all the fright and impulse just to get away as quickly as possible. The urge to run may be strong, but with a little dose of clarity and a sense of purpose, the trembling will go away, the heart beat will get reduced, and the fear dissipates.
Such a situation illustrates how to use whatever outside stimulus to fear there is by first calming one’s nerves and distilling the other symptoms to give rise to courage. This allows one to face any situation with calmness and clear headedness, and thereby quell the rising fear within them. Once the symptoms of fear die down, we are more able to channel everything into decisive and sensible action. We can do the same thing in the everyday things we do.
When we need to speak before an audience, but find that the mere thought of doing so makes us tremble, we need to take steps to calm ourselves first. Taking a drink of water or getting advice from someone who’s done it before could pave the way for us to understand the signals that we experience and to allay them in order to do what needs to be done. Once we have addressed the signals, we become devoid of fear, and what takes its place is the courage to go before that audience and speak.
When we need to signify our support to a particular cause, and we experience clammy hands or a rise in heart rate because of the dangers that doing so might bring to us, it would be better to wipe down those hands and calm that racing heartbeat first, then study the purpose of that cause in a calm and guided manner. Once we have succeeded at studying what is around us and within us, we may stumble on the courage finally to throw our support and determination behind that cause.
Managing the symptoms of fear is already tantamount to slaying the fear. Unless we become masters of what causes all the trembling, raised heart rate, perspiration and dryness of mouth within our central nervous system, we may never become masters of the things that strike fear within us.
The courage to stand tall beats the urgency to tremble and cower, the courage to speak overcomes the dryness of mouth, the courage to think clearly beats down the raised heart rate, and the purposeful action easily waters down nervous perspiration.