I am inspired by a reader of this blog to comment further on courage. Allow me to give two true accounts of what society typically calls courage:
I knew two men in the Kansas Army National Guard from eastern Kansas. They we sent to Iraq. They were assigned to security on a convoy. A car was seen approaching at a high rate of speed – the only way to stop the car was to pull their vehicle in front of it. (They did know it was loaded with explosives – but they knew their action would be painful at best.) They stopped the car and it exploded, killing the two Kansas Guardsmen.
A fire truck pulled up to the scene of a burning house. A woman was in the yard screaming that her child was upstairs in the house. One of the firemen looked the house over, buckled his heavy coat, fastened his air mask, and ran in the front door. A few minutes later a second story window broke and the fireman emerged onto a porch roof – child in hand. They were rescued by other firemen with ladders.
We would call both of these endeavors acts of courage. So putting the emotions aside, we ask: What is courage? Courage is the willingness to act, after a risk assessment has been attempted. In each of the two examples given, the men had the opportunity, however brief, to think about consequences. Their assessment was that the risk was worth the potential reward.
Courage is not acting blindly – without regard to consequences. Courage is action on behalf of conviction – even knowing the consequences may be painful. We see courage in our everyday lives – people regularly sacrifice something of themselves for a higher cause. The current issue of Time Magazine has an article on service to others. Sometimes we are faced with social issues that ask us to violate our own moral convictions – We see people courageously take the high moral road – even at a cost of being socially ostracized.
This is a character trait that I admire as much as any.