Monday, May 31, 2010

What is Courage?

Today is Memorial Day which is the day legally set aside for people in this country to remember those who fought and died for this country.  What makes it important that we remember those who died before us, the noble, and sometimes the not so noble?  What makes someone a "hero?"  How does one live with courage so that he or she can be remembered as a noble "soldier?"

For me, what epitomizes courage is the protagonist in the classic "Red Badge of Courage" by Stephen Crane.  It is a classic about the Civil War which covers only two days of the war.  On the first day, the protagonist in the book was scared and ran.  He acted like a normal scared person confronted by overwhelming personal danger.  But the book does not stop with day one.  On day two, he comes back, facing the danger from which he fled and he stands and fights.  When I read the book, way into my adulthood, I loved it.  That is real courage, fighting the natural urge for self-protection to do what one feels is right. No need for perfection.  We can redeem our souls.  I love redemption.

It is obvious courage to give up one's life for what one believes.  I wish I could understand why our nation keeps asking our young people to sacrifice their lives.  Many times, I would rather we kept our brave men and women at home and not ask for the ultimate sacrifice for what I suspect to be purely economic reasons such as protecting our dependence on foreign oil.  I think, as the ones who are not at risk of dying in these sometimes silly wars, we should not be asking our young ones, our sons and daughters, our youngsters, to die to keep us rich.  But our children and youths continue to make the ultimate sacrifice, usually with great honor and dignity.

I think for most of us, those too old or not confronted with the choice to go to battle, their can still be great courage.  It is the kind of courage we want from our leaders, yet see it all to rarely.  This kind of courage is not the kind of courage that makes for a typical politician.  This courage is the kind that few among us demonstrate.  It is the courage to do that which is unpopular, that which may open one to ridicule, or worse.  It takes courage to buck the masses, to risk everyday ridicule.  For a politician it takes courage to follow ones own convictions regardless of opinion polls.   For the everyday person, it takes courage to not join in and ridicule of the unpopular, to risk public ridicule, to risk loneliness.  That is the way that most of us can be courageous.

To act with courage is hard.  If it is easy to fight, it takes no courage to do so. Courage is when one fights for ideals when it is easier not to fight.   Mahatma Gandhi, Martin Luther King, Jr., Rosa Parks, all displayed real courage.  Everyday people display courage when they risk being shunned or ridiculed and stand up for what they believe.  To be courageous one has to first be able to stand up for oneself.  Just as someone who lacks self-love cannot love others, one who lacks the courage to protect oneself, cannot protect others.

I am proud to represent everyday people who show courage by bucking the system, by standing against injustice, even though it is hard and even though it is unpopular.  That is why I started this blog, to honor those everyday people who fight, in their own way, everyday for what is right.  That is uncommon courage.

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