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A person skydiving during the daytime, with fields and the sea in the background - Lompoc, USA. The Meaning of Courage.

The Meaning of Courage

Working through Fear

When most people talk about courage, they think about soldiers attacking an enemy when the odds are overwhelmingly against them. That, however, is not the only way we display courage. It can be from as extreme circumstances as that of a soldier to the courage to face each day, day by day, facing the hardships of daily life.

Oddly enough, the word courage comes from the old French “corage”, meaning “heart”.

I say oddly, because it so happens that the start of courage comes from the heart, but that could be the reason why it’s origins stem from that word.

The online Oxford Dictionary describes courage as, “The ability to do something that frightens one; bravery.”

William Shakespeare said, “Cowards die many times before death”. William Danforth said, “Courage is not the absence of fear; it is the conquest of it”.

I can’t remember when I first heard the following saying, but it has stayed with me all my life:

Where there’s a will, there’s a way.

I’ve grown up with that saying and I have never found it lacking. But the will needs courage to keep it going and courage sometimes comes from unusual sources, at unexpected times. It’s a trait of character that sometimes seems obvious but is not really there, most times hidden and rises out of the depths of who we are to help us do something that is completely out of the ordinary, for us.

Courage takes on many faces.

In the Midst of Battle

A while back, I came across an article that was about the pilots of the World Wars. They had looked into why the pilots that survived had survived, and the reason behind that. It became apparent that these pilots were willing to take risks, to do what was unusual and daring. Most of the pilots who did not survive had acted normally, never venturing into risks.

This reminds me of what Earl Nightingale said about conformity, that it is the opposite of courage.

This is one face of courage – breaking from the conformity of daily life, daily living, to step out and be more than we can be. It is about doing what you must do to find joy in your life, so every day is joyful.

Just like the businessman who wants out of the hectic way of life, so he can be at peace with himself, because of his failing health in that busy environment. He finds joy in something that does not conform to the expected way of society. What did his family think of his decision? His colleagues, his boss? What criticisms did he get? And still he did it.

Faced the fear and, with a will backed by courage, in his heart, made the change happen.

It’s not easy! No one can tell you that it is, because it never is. But the choice of staying where you are or living the life you want, is a compelling argument.

Say “No”

For some reason, for most of us, this is one of the hardest words we find to say – “No”.

“No” to taking part in something that will make us popular, but we know is wrong. “No” to being part of a group, when it’s not where we want to be. “No” to someone else because we know it’s not what they want to hear – but is detrimental to us.
The reasons for this are fear and because we don’t want to appear unkind.

Still, we don’t say “No” when we know we should and to say it takes courage, because it means facing those fears and driving through them like a wrecking ball through a wall.

Facing a fear has to be like that, like a wrecking ball. No slow, gentle breaking through a mental fear will work – it has and needs to be a sudden impact. The ball has to go through the wall in one go. It will take time to drop the whole wall, but the breakthrough has to be sudden.

It’s not what I believe in

Standing up for our beliefs links to the above. We say “No” when it doesn’t conform to what we believe in. At the same time we have to question if that belief is valid or not. It’s those beliefs that we hold in our subconscious mind.

I’m not necessarily talking about religion here, although the early Christians showed what that means. I understand that you will all have varying views on religion and this kind of an act, but, if you take the perspective that it is you standing up for what you believe in, would you budge or stand your ground?

For example, my dad always told me to tell the truth. He once asked me, “Who is the worst kind of person?” I looked at him thinking, “Hey?!” He asked me the question again and, fearing to get the answer right, I replied, “I don’t know”. He said, “Try”. I said, “A murderer”. He said, “No”. Shocked, I thought again – “Rapist”, I said. “No”, came the reply. So going down the crime ladder, I said, “Thief”. “Nope”, followed by a short pause and the reply, “A liar”.

Because a liar lies to cover their tracks, their lies, their actions.

So breaking conformity, facing life with courage and yourself, you don’t lie. Even when your life depends on it. This is called honesty and integrity, values that we should all hold onto like our life depended on them.

So, what do you believe in that you are compromising daily?

Be You

Again, this links to the above. In reality they are all intertwined, just like all the principles and ideas I talk about. None of them are a standalone feature, because that is the way things are, the way nature is, the way this universe is, the way God is. We can’t ignore the rest of the parts that makes us who we are and expect to move ahead as a fully developed spiritual person.

We have to take everything into account.

The only way to be who you are, who you are meant to be, is to find the courage to break out of your usual life, your norm and dare to go somewhere you’ve never been before. To go beyond your perceived boundaries and take on something you’ve wanted to but were too scared to do so.

When I think of this, I remember my dad telling me that he could never understand why he stepped off a perfectly good plane into mid air, during his service in the Parachute Regiment (Para’s). And to be honest, neither can I. For me, it’s that fear of the parachute not opening. Maybe it’s a fear that I have to overcome to move on spiritually.

Thinking on that, what are your fears? What do you stop yourself from doing? What is that one thing you could do today that would change your life for the better?

To be who we want to be, who we aspire to be, means that we have to break away from the norm. Our circle of friends may no longer serve us to move ahead. This doesn’t necessarily mean to completely break away from them, although that may be necessary. It may simply mean that we need to get involved in other circles.

We are, after all, the average sum of the people we spend the most time with.

Doing what we want to do with our life will raise worries, opinions and criticisms from others. You have to have the courage and the conviction to stand your ground, to continue with what you believe in. You are the only one who can see the end result. Everyone else only sees what is there and now. And you are not obligated to explain yourself to no one (although letting you partner know is a good idea).

Self doubt will be there at times as well. Just keep your eye on the goal and focus on the result.

A Mental Battle

I’m no expert on mental health, but I do have eyes and ears. I see the people who struggle daily with mental illness, whether it’s genetic or brought on by PTSD.

Each day is faced as a new battle against the inner voices, fears, doubts, judgements of the self.

This is a battle rarely talked about because most people don’t like talking about it. Even if it exists in a family unit, it’s either not talked about or repressed – it’s gaslighted, and it shouldn’t be.

This in itself takes courage and although those dealing with this are not aware of it, it is unfortunate that those around them don’t see this and may also not have the courage to overcome their own fears and face this as well.

It’s not a subject I usually broach because I am no expert on it. On this occasion, however, it fits the purpose.

Have Heart

Courage comes from the heart. We get courage when we move forward with something because it’s something we want to do, because we have fallen in love with the idea of what we are doing.

When we feel it, whether it’s love or fear, we act on that feeling. The key to this is altering the inaction due to fear to an action of courage, facing the fear.

Having fears is normal. Stopping ourselves because of fears is, unfortunately, also normal.

There are times when fear serves – you wouldn’t walk into a hyena pen full of hungry hyenas, for example.

But every day we face our fears with some level of courage, because if we didn’t we wouldn’t live. We have this innate, build-in, quality that once we have done something we get braver about it. Just like driving a car or a motorbike at high speeds.

The point here is that to overcome that fear we have to act towards it – the wrecking ball. We have to take that first decisive action. Then, by repeated action, that fear melts away.

Just like the Monks at Meteora, in Greece. The first time they would go up the mountain side they were facing a fear. They got the courage from the fact that they wanted to get into the monastery to start their monastic life. The more they went up and down the wind ladders or in the net and winch, the fear became less.

It’s the same for you. Courage is not something that we don’t have. We’ve just got used to doing things that need courage and overcoming fear. In that same way, we can face any fear and move forward to a life of our choosing, to a better life, to “a better way to live”, as Og Mandino would say.

It’s a choice – let fears overcome you and conform or face your fears with courage and be all you can be.

From caring comes courage.
Lao Tzu

Conformity is the jailer of freedom and the enemy of growth.
John F. Kennedy

God grant me the serenity
To accept the things I cannot change;
the courage to change the things I can;
and the wisdom to know the difference.
Reinhold Niebuhr

Photograph by: Matthew Henry on Unsplash


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