What is courage? Who are the really courageous people?
To read the media, one would believe that this is an easy question. They tell us that a soldier (on our side) is courageous; that a mother turning back into a burning building to rescue a child shows courage; that it is brave of a teenager to stand up to school yard bullies.
And all of these are indeed acts of great heroism, that takes courage, but it is not always as cut and dried as it seems. Sometimes, it takes real courage to do things that are not approved of.
We see in the public arena how it takes a lot of personal courage to express any type of opinion. Anything any person in the public eye says will be criticized. And not just to the extent that other people think him wrong, but that the speaker IS wrong; that they are fundamentally a bad person, for holding the view that they do.
It is not just in that area that we face ridicule and people forcing their opinions on us. It happens in a less public, and often more subtle way, in many areas of our life.
A businessman working in a high-profile job may look like he is successful and fulfilled, and yet if his heart’s desire is to be, say, a painter, he will not be happy. He may get all that the world considers success, but to him, it will all be insubstantial and pointless. But, those close to him will expect him to carry on, and others may be relying on him to carry on being “successful”. Where then does courage lie? Many would say that courageous would be to grit his teeth and carry on, to continue to support those who need him. However, it would take a lot more courage for this man to quit his job and follow his heart and become a painter. Because to do this he need to take a new path, the destination of which is unclear, and to face the wroth of those who expect him to carry making money.
Or take the case of a woman who has been friends with someone for years, and has been helped by her over many difficult times. She then finds that her friend has been taking part in an immoral and criminal activity. And yet the expectation of all is that she should stand by her friend, even when to do so would allow the activity to continue. It would take a lot of courage for her to stand against her one time friend, to stand up for her principles and take the moral ground, and a lot of pain for the loss of the friendship.
Sometimes, real courage is in doing what only we see as courageous – others will call it cowardice, wrong, illogical or evil. And if we know in our heart that this is the right thought or action, then it can take a huge amount of courage to stand up and say so. And sometimes the courageous thing is to step away, to take NO action, to simple let the situation happen.
Courage is not a simple word, and it cannot be judged by others outside of us, for only we know the strength required to do what we do.