The truth about courage? What is it, and what makes a person courageous? You have seen headlines like “Michigan father rushed into burning home to save his twin 18-month-old daughters”. Or “Teenage boy rescues a baby and an elderly woman from the burning house then puts out the fire”? Many brave heroes save people from drowning, accidents, and attacks. How do they do it? Will you ever have the nerve to do the same? So let us uncover the truth about courage.
According to Merriam Webster, courage is the “mental or moral strength to venture, persevere, and withstand danger, fear, or difficulty” (1)
Courage can be described as “the attitude of facing and dealing with anything recognized as dangerous, difficult, or painful, instead of withdrawing from it.” (2)
A shorter definition from the same website is “The ability to do things which one finds frightening”. Three things stand out in all these definitions:
- A difficult situation
- Experiencing negative emotions
- And to act despite the emotions
How does courage work?
Our lives mainly consist of a sequence of events taking place daily. Often, you do not choose the experiences. They are merely dumped in your lap. All events, big or small, have an emotional effect on us. Some emotional impressions can be almost unnoticeable. They may consist only of a flicker of irritation, boredom, or annoyance. You can easily brush them aside and continue with your day. More significant events may result in more intense emotions. You cannot always discard feelings of intense anger, sadness or fear. They insist on being felt.
Emotions can be powerful and overwhelming. They can be like an out-of-control elephant that destroys everything in the vicinity. Your mind acts as the keeper that calms down and controls the elephant. Recognizing and acknowledging your emotions is a good thing. If not, they may come back to haunt you for a long time. The real challenge lies in what to do in these circumstances. When you are confronted with a rush of unpleasant feelings, there is a difficult choice to make. What will I do now?
A difficult choice to make.
Essentially there are only two options. The easy way is to give in to your feelings and move away. This may leave you with regrets, self-loathing, and unresolved problems. The difficult way is to face your feelings and deal with the problem. To do this shows courage. Courage is thus the choice of actions that you are willing to take in the face of jeopardy. Courage is when you can keep and control your elephant so that you can move in the best direction.
“Scared is what you’re feeling. Brave is what you’re doing.” -Emma Donoghue, Room
Courage is all about how you act.
We know that few of us have saved somebody from a fire or assisted people in dangerous circumstances. Does that mean that you are not strong and courageous?
So, what exactly is a courageous woman? What is the truth about courage?
To answer this, we must look at different types of courage.
Types of courage
There are six types of courage:(3)
This is what we usually associate with courage. Physical courage is when you run into a burning house to save somebody. But it also includes getting back on the bicycle after you fell off. To train for a marathon and finish it takes daily acts of courage. Falling from your bike hurts and running a marathon is agonizing. To persist despite having an aching body is an act of physical courage.
All of us live our lives according to values and norms. Values are learned beliefs that originate mainly from your specific culture and community. Examples are the importance of family or the freedom of speech. Morals are the standards according to which you live. They are principles that help you to decide what is right and wrong. It may include being honest, telling the truth, or not cheating. Standing up for your morals and values takes courage. To be a whistleblower takes moral courage. To stand up against injustice despite consequences to yourself takes immense inner strength. Examples of people that showed moral bravery are Karen Kwiatkowski, Cynthia Cooper, and Mother Teresa.
Humans are social beings. Being accepted in social groups is crucial to our social well-being. We all long for social approval. Young children are subjected to peer pressure, and many will do anything to be accepted by their friends. Even as adults, we easily conform to the status quo. We do not care to risk social disapproval or punishment. To go against social expectations is challenging. It is testing to defend a victim against a bully. Your group of friends may reject you. You can even become the next target. To speak out against social injustices like racism or rape takes great inner strength. As J.K. Rowling said in her book “Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone”:
“It takes a great deal of bravery to stand up to our enemies, but just as much to stand up to our friends.”
The root of the word courage in Latin is “cor” (heart). The original meaning of the word courage is to speak from your heart. The emotional connection is obvious. Emotional courage implies knowledge of the finer subtleties of feelings. It means that you are aware of a range of positive and negative feelings. This implies the willingness to be open, truthful, and vulnerable about your feelings. It is hard to tell your partner that you are hurt or frustrated at the risk of being mocked. It takes courage to tell someone you love them when you could be rejected. Emotional courage enables us to act on the things we are passionate about.
“Thinking is the hardest work there is, which is probably the reason why so few engage in it” – Henry Ford
Not only is thinking hard work, but it takes confidence to share your point of view. It is easier to accept other people’s points of view rather than argue your own ideas. Creative thinking and problem-solving are challenging. But courage enables us to do just that. It also empowers us to be open-minded and include the viewpoints of others. To question, read books and articles, and learn new things are examples of intellectual courage. To challenge your set ideas and to be curious about new concepts shows willpower and strength. Maya Angelou (poet and writer), Marie Curie (physicist and chemist and double Nobel prize winner), and Michelle Obama are examples of women with intellectual courage.
To live a meaningful life, you need inner strength. It means that you must ask tough questions about yourself and your existence. You may wonder why you are here or whether you make a difference in the world. Is there any significance to your life? We tend to think that doing great things will make your life meaningful. But holding the hand of your sick mother or phoning your friend who lost her partner may be significant. Living a meaningful life and finding your purpose takes great courage. You will encounter difficult circumstances where you cannot find answers to your questions. You may be confronted with your own vulnerabilities and mortality. But asking the questions and facing your vulnerabilities is a sign of immense courage.
The importance of courage
The truth and importance of courage are that it not only lies in the heroic deeds that you do every now and then. It also consists of getting up every morning, making all the million little uncomfortable choices, and doing what it takes to live a valuable life. Courage is a virtue that enables you to accept yourself and express the real you.
You now know the truth about courage. Do you have the courage to share your little (or big) victories with us? Did you start (and stick) to a new exercise plan, did you enrol for a course, give your opinion, or made it through a difficult day?
Please share your truth and your courage with our Klaen of courageous women.