Of all the virtues a person might cultivate, courage is one of the ones I find most important. Honour is the primary virtue cherished by Druids, but honour without courage doesn’t amount to much. If you can only be honourable when it is safe and easy, you won’t get very far.

Fear is a very destructive and damaging force in my life, and I know I am not alone in this. There are days when the fear is so bad that I simply want to shut down and refuse to engage with the world. To do so, would be to bring about personal disaster, there are no two ways about it. To be halted by fear, is to fail. So much of what I do depends on getting out there and doing it… if I let the fear overwhelm me, I am finished. It means that often, any kind of movement at all is far better than quitting would be.

For some, courage and bravery seem like an absence of fear. From the outside they tend to look that way. Conventional wisdom has it that courage is not freedom from fear, but the ability to overcome the fear that you have. Undoubtedly this is a useful thing, but it means living with the fear.

What is courage, as a state of being? Firstly it requires a capacity for hope. You have to believe it is possible for things to be better and that taking action will help. Without that fundamental belief, there is no courage. An absence of despair, or at least not very much of it, are necessary pre-requisites for courage. Even if you are heading out to face certain death, you have to believe that doing so means something, or you’ll just pull the duvet over your head and wait for certain doom to come to you, instead. It doesn’t need to be more than a fine thread of hope, a tiny belief that some small thing could be made better. However, that dash of optimism makes all the difference. Without it, courage seems futile.

Courage requires a degree of belief in your own power. If you don’t believe that you, personally, can make a difference by acting or doing your best, you will not find the courage to stand up and try. So for there to be courage, there must be a world view that embraces the potential of the lone crusader, or that sees how many little actions contribute to changing the tide. Gloomy acceptance does not foster courage.

Then you need to have a vision of something better, so that you know which direction to move in. It might be vague, it might simply be the idea that if you act honourably you will move towards those better ways of being, but there needs to be something. Courage without honour has no idea what to be doing, and can easily turn into something else.

Courage is not merely the business of overcoming fear. Determination can do that. Fear itself can make us overcome the paralysis of fear for fear of what might be worse should we fail to act. Courage is an inner condition that says ‘I can try and there is a point’. When you have that, you can see all the things it is reasonable, and less reasonable to be afraid of, but you have the means to challenge them. You have a perspective that makes it possible to stand up and act. That kind of courage is not bombastic or sabre rattling, but it has a great deal of power.

I do not think that courage as a virtue is simply a measure of overcoming fear. It is a state of being that is not dependent on how much fear you are feeling. It is a habit of mind and a cultivation of belief that enables action regardless of fear. One can therefore have courage without feeling afraid, or with it; the measure is not the terror overcome, but a particular inner quality that enables action.

About Nimue Brown

Druid, author, dreamer, folk enthusiast, parent, polyamourous animist, ant-fash, anti-capitalist, bisexual steampunk. Drinker of coffee, maker of puddings. Exploring life as a Pagan, seeking good and meaningful ways to be, struggling with mental health issues and worried about many things. View all posts by Nimue Brown

9 responses to “Courage

  • syrbal-labrys

    I am confronting many of those same issues. I am often told I am courageous, and I agree I have been that at times. But in the last few years, my lack of effective options to exercise is robbing me of impetus. I am often close to despair these days, on many levels.

    Honor and determination keep me upright at the several “fronts” of my life presently. I am trying to rebuild my walls of hope that will enable me to feel more effective in my world, instead of feeling like one small woman alone and futile.

    • ohnwentsya

      Sometimes the greatest courage is the most unseen and easily ignored. The courage that allows us to soldier on day by day moment by moment in situations of poverty, oppression and various forms of distress no matter how difficult and often deeply horrifying those moments and days may be because to give up, give in, let go of it all would be a dishonorable lack of integrity.It would be passing on our suffering to those we love most. In essence the 1% or whoever is in charge of this nightmare of modern Earth has created a massive planet sized version of Orwell’s room 101.
      Before I just read Nimue’s post I was thinking this doggy paddle thru the vast sea of overwhelming and impossible was just stubborn determination rooted in uncrushable love-but now ive read it I believe perhaps that is precisely what courage IS.
      The stubborn determination in the face of seemingly endless suffering or enemy gunfire and bombs, or torture-whatever it is that we refuse to allow to go through us to land on those we care about. Whether those are our comrades in war or our family, or a strangers child in a burning building-the love is simply stronger than the pain and fear.

    • Nimue Brown

      Rebuilding hope is not an easy process. It can be done, and tha tin itself can be a helpful thought. I’d seen it done, and that helped me believe I could overcome despair, at least a bit.

  • Eilish Niamh

    Your distinction between courage and determination is eye-opening. Growing up I always said I was determined. Now I know why that wasn’t enough. Going off to revise my views now… Also many people have said that courage is not the same as overcoming fear, one of them is Aristotle in Nicomachean Ethics. I mention this for those who want to do even more philosophy. 🙂

  • Iulia Flame

    Yours is an analytic frame of mind. This courage is backed by inner vision.

    • Nimue Brown

      There are days when I think about things too much though. I can tend to over-think, and over intellectualise, and then I end up thinking about that…. it can be a barrier to being.

  • Christopher Blackwell

    A bunch of us Vietnam Veterans were sitting around and discussing bravery. This included a number of other guys that had a fair number of medals but who always found themselves being uncomfortable when any one said they were heroes. The reason they did not feel like heroes was because thy remembered all to well how terrified they were when they did the things that earned them all those metals.

    So we found it necessary to decide what constituted bravery. It could not be lack of fear because that would be a fool to unaware of the actual danger. Such a person would be a danger to himself and his buddies leaping into situations that might get them all killed.

    So being fully aware of the danger in what you are doing was a necessity.

    So here is how we finally defined bravery:

    Bravery is doing what has to be done, even though you are scared shitless doing it.

    • Nimue Brown

      that;s a good definition. I think it would be well worth identifying bravery as this process of overcoming fear, as a thing you do one experience at a time, and courage as more of an outlook or virtue, something that informs what you do, but is more than the relationship with fear.

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