What is courage? We all have an image that comes to mind when we hear the word, phantom visions of heroes from stories we were told as children. We idolize those images: those soldiers, superheroes and knights in shining armor of our youth. We gaze wistfully at their likenesses and wonder what it is they have that we lack. Often we think the heroes are heroes because they were born that way; it is their duty and purpose in the world to be courageous, just as it is the duty and purpose of teachers to teach and mothers to mother. The stories tell us you are a hero because of an experience that happens to you, be it falling into a vat of radioactive waste or being born a prince in a beautiful castle already destined to rescue the princess. This is where the myths got it wrong.
In reality, the outward expression of courage is the direct result of the inner practice of honesty and vulnerability. Courage is not a trait selected arbitrarily, like hair or eye color, but a conscious and continual decision on the part of the individual. The grand gifts bestowed on heroes are not really gifts, but results of behavioral practice. Everyone comes into the world capable of such valor; indeed, it is a necessity for worthwhile existence. In the words of Dr. Maya Angelou: “Without courage, you cannot practice any other virtue consistently.”
So what does courage look like, in practice? Simply put, in most cases, courage looks like doing what others will not. Courage looks like admitting with pride that our lives are better than we portray them to be. Courage looks like seeking empathy rather than pity. Courage is choosing to be honest with someone about how we feel, rather than caring about how it will make us look. And no, it isn’t just when that person has done something hurtful. No one is perfect – the time to reprimand a loved one for their actions will come. What is harder is looking them in the eye and conveying, authentically, your personal perception of their inherent majesty, in spite of the various errors you both have made.
Courage is saying, “I work hard. I’m tired. I’ve been kicked in the ribs more than I can count. But I’m here. I’m here, and I am standing up with the best of my ability.” What you do will not always be pretty. In fact, the vast majority of it will probably be heinous looking – to some people. But to others, it will be just what they need. It will be radiant, flawless, and gentle, and it will pry open an untreated wound inside of them – one you may not even know is there. Your supposed “mess”, the “disruption” you cause from going against the grain, will be the very thing that reminds someone of their own perfection. Choosing to believe that there is beauty and growth to be found in every situation is the greatest service any of us can perform. We are a generation thirsting for the siren song of servitude. And courage, my friends, is the highest form of servitude.
Fight! Fight to the death! Fight for the life that is rightfully yours! It is what you came into this world to do – you came ready for war, bellowing a battle cry laced with the passion of your soul’s story; body slick with the blood of those who came before you. Each and every one of us is a warrior born with countless weapons at our disposal, and bravery is the key to our personal armories. Who among us is such a fool as to not choose victory? Without courage, there is no victory.
All the land has been won, my friend, but the fight continues on. The tarnished moors of our souls are our Agincourt; marred with soot and dirt and loss and pain. We must ascend once more unto the breech! And yes, there will be dragons to be slain, without question. It was G.K. Chesterton who said “fairytales are more than true: not because they tell us that dragons exist, but because they tell us that dragons can be beaten”. Do we admire those who run from the dragon? Do we applaud those unwilling to lay themselves bare before potential loss, and rejection, and pain? Do we celebrate those who grumble against the beautiful, the blessed, the fortunate? No. We do not.
Submitting to the idea that the world is an ugly place out to swallow you whole does not make you brave. It makes you a coward. It means you think you are small and pointless. It makes you weak to believe that something as simple as the world can break you, no matter what it may throw at you. There will be times when it feels as though your heart has been torn from your chest, or like your body will break and crumble beneath you. You may feel as though you hate everyone. You must keep going. We need people who exemplify that life continues on when things hurt, or when we become afraid. We need reminders that fear is a wasted emotion.
We only fear that which we believe possesses what we lack, and we lack only that which we think we are not worthy of receiving. We are our own greatest shackles. Authentic bravery means moving past our perceptions of our own smallness. It means doing, saying and thinking the things that others are afraid will deny them love. It means being examples of love toward ourselves, so that others might see and believe that they are lovable. Courage is staring into the eye of our personal storm and reveling in the beauty of its power.