Power of Courage
President, International Network on Personal Meaning
Coquitlam, B.C., Canada
The courageous voice of a true champion is contagious.
It can turn despair to hope, and defeat to victory. For instance,
the reassuring, roaring voice of Winston Churchill in the darkest
days of England during World War II is widely credited as playing
a major role in changing the fortunes of the war in Europe.
"Be strong and courageous," was the repeated
charge from God to Joshua after the death of Moses. "Be strong and
courageous, because you will lead these people to inherit the land
I swore to their forefathers to give them" (Joshua 1:6).
The Promised Land did not fall on Joshua's lap
without a fight, without a struggle. It never does. Every promise
exacts a sacrifice. Every dream demands courageous acts.
Life is a constant battle. For some, it is a
fight for fiscal or physical survival. For others it is a war waged
to capture the crowns of success - position, power and prestige.
For a selected few, it is an uphill battle to fulfill a higher calling.
However, for most people, it is a lifelong inner struggle against
one's personal demons.
Two basic stances in life
In all the above instances, courage makes the
difference between discouragement and determination, between surrender
and success. Courage is not blind to dangers or difficulties; it
is the capacity to persist in spite of fears, failures and suffering.
That is why courage permeates every aspect of a worthy life.
In facing the troubles of this world, there
are two basic stances in life: escapism and triumphalism. Escapism
takes on many forms, ranging from denial to all kinds of distractions.
Many resort to addiction when they can no longer
cope with the demands of life. However, we can never escape from
life for long. Eventually, problems will catch up with us. By drowning
our sorrows in alcohol and other addictive substances, we only succeed
in creating more sorrows for ourselves.
Triumphalism takes a defiant, heroic stance
towards life. Frankl (1987) has suggested that the defiant human
spirit is a magical medicine box, because a courageous attitude
of affirmation and optimism is the best medicine for body and soul,
even when there are no "cures".
success of Anthony (Tony) Robbins and other motivational speakers
lies in their ability to appeal to the defiant human spirit.
They peddle triumphalism, unashamedly, and people
lap it all up, because everyone loves to be told that they can have
the courage to face their own problems and change their lives.
But lasting courage requires more than just
an inspirational pep talk, a "shot in the arm"; it needs to be part
of our character and our general orientation towards life.
The dark side of courage
There is also a dark side to courage. Many ruthless
dictators and crime bosses have built their empires by being more
fearless and fearsome than their rivals. Their courage is measured
by the amount of innocent blood they have shed.
are also daredevils, who risk their lives to an adrenalin rush.
Unconsciously, they are driven to prove their courage and invincibility
by experiencing close encounters with death, until their luck runs
How about the suicide-bombers? Are they courageous
heroes who sacrifice their lives for justice for their own people?
Or are they terrorists, murderers of innocent people?
Anatomy of authentic courage
But what exactly constitutes authentic courage?
What distinguishes it from pseudo and evil courage? There are five
common threads that characterize courage as a virtue:
- It is an abiding
attitude Acts of great courage, such as a fireman
risking his own life to save others from a burning building, or
a mother throwing herself before an attacker to save her child's
life, are not random acts. They spring from an abiding attitude
of placing responsibility above personal interests.
- It is part of
a character cluster Courage is cultivated and developed
over a period of time. It is part of a character cluster which
includes endurance, patience and persistence.
- It is a moral
choice Like other virtues, courage involves a moral
decision between expediency and principle, between self-interests
and group benefits, and between folly and wisdom. In an amoral
and immoral world, moral decisions always demand moral courage.
- It is a spiritual
exercise In the darkest hour, when everything else
has failed, the defiant human spirit relies on faith in a Higher
Power and in ultimate meaning.
- It is an act
of self-transcendence Invariably, courage as a virtue
is manifested in actions of kindness that transcend personal interests
Profiles of courage
We are able to carry on in our daily struggles
and persist in the never-ending battles for justice, because of
the many unsung heroes cheering us on along the way. Many have paid
the ultimate price. Many more are wounded. But they lift our spirit
with their examples. Here are the profiles of heroic courage:
- A victim embraces his enemy in midst of deafening
shouts for blood and revenge.
- A young man, written off as a total failure,
eventually beats all odds and achieves beyond all expectations.
- A single mother raises her children in a
very bad neighborhood and teaches them to rise above the degradation
around them - poverty, violence and drugs.
- An immigrant child goes to a school each
day in spite of her fear of further attack by racist bullies or
her fear of failure because of language and cultural barriers.
- A woman endures the pain of repeated surgeries
and chemotherapy in order to stay alive for her children.
- An old man suffers from chronic pain and
the indignities of being frail and yet celebrates life each day.
- A missionary doctor serves those without
medical care in a foreign country and risks being murdered by
- A physically handicapped person overcomes
tremendous odds to regain his functions and contributes to society.
The list can go on indefinitely. You could easily
add to it individuals who are truly heroic. The world is a better
place because of them. You too can make a difference, if you have
the courage to leave your footprints on the sands of time.