October 11, 2010
Courage To Enhance Quality of Life
Ernest H. Rosenbaum, MD
We live by our own philosophy and by following examples of courageous people. Our acts reflect our personal philosophy, as well as our personal moral standards. There is not a person I know, who does not wish that some of the acts performed, whether it was ill speech of a neighbor or hurting another person, does not wish that he or she could retrace his or her footsteps, and either omit or rectify such an act. This, in part, is what is called moral courage -the ability to do what is right, proper and fair, so that the goals and standards one sets in life can be achieved.
It takes a lot of bravery, endurance, and courage to achieve certain goals or live facing death, whether it is trying to be a hero in a war, when one is fighting for one's country and trying to save oneself as well as the life of a companion; or the courage to enter into a difficult examination or competition; or achieve success in one's career, where one has to take certain gambles, knowing that if one fails, one could lose wealth, or position, or even go into a mental depression due to the failure.
Aristotle in Nichomachean Ethics stated that, We become brave by doing brave acts.
There is often a fork in the pathway of life, where one path may be more difficult, arduous, and dangerous, and the other may be easier but possibly less gratifying if one achieves that goal, or one of lesser value. Decisions have to be made at all crossroads, and one always wishes to make right turns - doing the right thing.
There are times, when under pressure or attack, either in politics, business, or in war, that one has to stand his or her ground, and no matter what the consequences, face the enemy. It is through courage and bravery that we are able to maintain our equanimity and stand for our principles and personal philosophy and not yield to undue pressure and possible failure.
One has to control one's fears and maintain courage that one will not only conquer but also achieve goals. I don't think there is anything as a fearless person, who in the face of danger, could not be a coward, and who performs, in part, because of his training to fight for what he believes in, and who is willing to accept defeat knowing that he has at least done his best. I think it is normal to be afraid, and it is normal to have fear of failure or a penalty that could compromise one's action, and yet with moral fortitude and courage, one can make progress.
Thus, to be brave does not mean one cannot have fear, but one needs to be cautious and not reckless in proceeding, to avoid harm, and maintain the confidence that as one proceeds, the end result can be that which is desired. The lack of courage can be due to an overriding fear or lack of confidence. This form of fear can be overcome with renewed self confidence, support, and self encouragement, and by taking whatever training is necessary to become as proficient as possible to enhance the chances of success.
Courage can also be enhanced by the infectious type of inspiration of nature and of strong leadership, which can inspire people to achieve beyond their normal potential.
In one aspect, as Herman Melville says in Moby Dick, when Starbuck, the chief mate of the Pequod addressed his crew and stated, I will have no man in my boat, who is not afraid of the whale. He was able to appreciate that there was peril in the mission of harpooning a whale, and that a person who did not have fear could be more dangerous and foolhardy than a person who was a coward, who had overriding fear.
Courage comes in other forms, such as that exemplified by Mahatma Gandhi, who suffered emotional and physical abuse throughout his life, and yet put his life on the line, even allowing himself to lie across a railroad track to stop a train as a means of political/social protest. His method was of non-violent protest, so that public opinion and moral conscience objection could arise against the injustice of the British rule.
In part, courage comes from one's cultural heritage. One brought up in the culture of the American Indians or the tribes of South America has been taught early in life the meaning of duty. A part of duty is not to be afraid and yet have courage to either face fierce animals or be a warrior, who can protect as well as attack. The same examples can be found in most societies.
Thus, courage is not merely a reason to do the right thing or a form of breeding or culture, but it is a part of one's willpower, which can be enhanced by inspiring leaders, or can come from a social philosophy, or from ourselves, or others from a requirement of our social duty to our family - for example, to protect them - or from a requirement of our country for self defense and preservation. This courage is also a matter of confidence and controlling fear, and a wish or need to act and feel brave.
Courage is something that can be ingrained into us from the time of our youth, as it takes courage to go to sleep at night in the dark, as well as courage to take your first ride on a bicycle without the training wheels or even with the training wheels, or to ride a horse. Courage requires the control of fear, so that fear does not hamper the ability to function and contribute to our being brave. It is also one of the factors in the will to live.
Plato said, Courage is knowing what to fear. Another example is that by Rudyard Kipling, Brave men and women (as well as cowardly men and women) are not born that way, they become that way through their acts. Here are the acts that make us not just grow up, but grow up well.
- Another example is that of the brave three hundred at the famous battle at the narrow pass of Thermopylae in 480 B.C., when Xerxes led his Persian army into Greece. Although they were defeated at Thermopylae, the Spartans' heroic stand against overwhelming odds inspired the Greeks in later resistance and forever made Sparta's name synonymous with courage. There was a monument later erected at the pass of Thermopylae, describing the courageous stand of a few in defense of their homeland:
- Pause, Traveler, ere you go your way.
Then tell how Spartans to the last we fought and fell.
Reprinted by permission