I’ve been thinking a lot about courage lately (previous post about courage). Often we define courage as feeling the fear but acting anyway. What troubles me about this approach is that it defines courage as something that only exists in opposition to something else.
One of the things I like about virtues is the idea of cultivating them, but if courage only exists in relation to fear, then you can only cultivate it by having things you are afraid of. You can only measure it in terms of that – so the person who develops courage so far that they overcome fear doesn’t really count as courageous any more.
I’m interested in the idea of courage as an innate quality, not a reaction. It struck me that this would require the courage to be for something, rather than coming up in opposition to fearful experiences. What things are we invested in such that the idea of them gives us courage? It takes courage to act, to make changes, to stand up for things. It’s perhaps not so much about overcoming fear as overcoming apathy and disbelief. The courage of your convictions is a rejection of the idea that you can’t make a difference, or that the struggle itself is futile. It can take courage to try and to strive – not because the action is fearful, but because it takes a certain kind of boldness to assert meaning in this way in face of an often uncaring universe.
Thanks to some helpful facebook prompts, I’ve been thinking about lions and oak trees in relation to courage. Neither of these really suggests overcoming fear to me. They do however suggest ways of standing in your own power, with a kind of poise and awareness that makes action possible.
I’m considering the idea that fear isn’t the opposite of courage – often fear and courage exist alongside each other. Apathy and defeatedness are the opposites of courage. It is apathy and a feeling of defeat and futility that stops people from acting – fear is often a spur to acting and creates necessity. Courage is the quality that keeps a person moving when it seems like all is lost, or the problem is too big to take on. Thus whether or not you are afraid may not be the best measure of whether or not you are courageous.