Most people love to be praised as intelligent, generous, funny, or kind, but to called ‘courageous’, ‘daring’, or ‘brave’ eclipses the rest.
When we reflect on the people we regard as courageous, we tend to be very narrow in our thinking. We immediately conjure up visions of soldiers in battle, fearlessly risking their lives for a noble cause, or firefighters cradling children in their arms as flames crackle and burn. We remember those who have suffered to battle injustice, whistle-blowers who have gone against authority for a moral or public concern. With a tear in our eye, we always have a special place in our heart for them: the courageous, the bold, and the brave.
But rarely do we think of adding such a fine virtue to our own repertoire in everyday life. Few wake up in the morning with the steadfast determination to become more courageous. Self-help books, of course, implore you to take more risks, to feel the fear and do it anyway, to do one thing a day that scares you. But how might life be treated with a measure of courage?
For philosophers in ancient times, courage was certainly one of the highest virtues. For Aristotle, courage is related to the spirited element of the soul. It’s the spirit that makes us stand up and fight, to “go down with all guns blazing” as the saying goes. For Plato, the human psyche is partitioned between reason (our thoughts, questioning), desire (our appetites), and spirit (or courage). Courage is the power or spirit that makes things happen. You might have the desire to become the head of government one day, but you’ll need courage to put yourself up for the position, and even more courage to remain there when others want to bring you down. Without courage, your best laid plans will never be realised, thereby remaining thoughts and ideas; mere dreams.
Like most traits, courage is exercised by doing, and strengthened by repetition. “We become brave by doing brave acts,” says Aristotle. We might see it like a muscle that’s built up over time, as we learn to bear a heavier and heavier load. To realise our purpose, or entelechy, we will be called at times to sacrifice – be it pleasure, happiness, comfort, or security – and to do so will require a dose of courage. As an example, in this issue, we feature daredevil stuntman Robbie Maddison who acknowledges that, with every performance on his motorbike, death is but a mere breath away. As he battles against fear, Maddison reminds himself of his calling, and this gives him the strength – the courage and spirit – to attempt stunts that teeter on the impossible.
While fear is our constant companion – few can completely shake it off – we can use our reason and the spirit of courage to channel fear to our advantage. Rather than succumbing to fear’s gripping embrace, we can use its energy to affirm our essential being.