Friday, September 21, 2007


I read a story the other day about a civil war soldier who would walk into battle and at the first sign of bloodshed he would run away to perceived safety. After the battle was over, he would join his unit and swear that he would do better next time, only to repeat the process over again. The question posed was “is this soldier a coward or did he act with courage?”

We look at certain jobs and assume that the people in those positions are courageous, or we hear stories of amazing feats and say how courageous that person might be. We generalize that some people are more courageous than others just by our perception of what they do. A fireman is more courageous than a teacher, right? Even if that fireman works in an affluent neighborhood that only goes on one call a month, while the teacher works in a high crime neighborhood that resembles a war zone? Both voluntarily put their lives in danger, but if you put anyone in a uniform they suddenly look a lot more courageous than the plain clothed person. Don’t get me wrong here, I have a lot of respect for people that wear uniforms, but courage is not how we are perceived externally or defined by external actions, courage is an internal state of mind, where our ability to act upon our thought is all that matters.

Courage is defined as the ability to face danger, difficulty, uncertainty, or pain without being overcome by fear or being deflected from a chosen course of action. This means that courage is more about facing and overcoming fear, and less about what we are seen doing. Every battle we have with fear is originally fought between our ears first and then brought to physical action. Because of this courage is never seen in its real state. What we define as courage is not the courageous moment, for the courageous moment is in the choice not in the action.

The more courageous choices we make the more we expand our opportunities in life. By facing our fears and deciding to take them on, we in turn create opportunity for ourselves which opens us up to future success. In the case of the Civil War soldier mentioned above, he was courageous, because he continued to choose to face his most primal fear; death. During the Civil War desertion was punished by court-martial and/or death, but not for this soldier, he was given the opportunity to continue to try and fight. In facing his fears, he was allowed to live therefore expanding his opportunity.

Life shrinks or expands in proportion to one's courage. - Anais Nin

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