Courage-A word that means so much and at the same time is nearly impossible to define. We use it to define the actions of soldiers, politicians, entertainers and even the occasional house pet. Although each of these may be acting courageously, our lack of clear definition prevents us from responding well when we see something truly courageous. So, two things: how do we define courage and what do we do about it?
First, the definition. This is my definition but I believe it contains the necessary elements for something to be truly courageous.
Courage: An act taken alone with full knowledge that the consequences of that act may be detrimental to one’s physical well-being, livelihood, or acceptance by family and peers for a purpose bigger than themselves. Although individuals can act courageously in a group, for something to be truly courageous, the potential negative consequences must be individual.
So much of what we call courage may be bold and even unusual, but at the same time may not reach the level of courageous. A great example of courage was demonstrated in the last week by thousands of civilians who took to the streets of Iran to protest an oppressive government. They have marched and demanded that their voices be heard and that those in power would promote freedom instead of tyranny. What makes these protests so courageous, is that even though they may be marching in crowds of thousands, the potential negative consequences, even to the point of death, is very individual. These folks are doing what needs to be done at great personal and knowing, risk. This is courage! In response to these protests, our president made this statement:
“We are all INSPIRED by COURAGE!”
Real courage always inspires because it is so rare! What we need in this world is more courage, more inspiration to step out and do those things that may cost us but, in the end, may also change the world-or at least our part of it. When we cheapen courage by attaching that label to anything unusual, we focus on the individual instead of the act that can inspire others. Real courage always inspires!
So what do we do when we witness this type of courage? We encourage! It has been said that encouragement is the act of placing courage “in”. I am not sure how accurate that is as a definition, but I do know that when someone is acting alone at great personal risk for the benefit of others, there is nothing better you can do than to encourage them. To stand on the sidelines and cheer-letting them and everyone else know that you see them, you are for them, and that what they are doing is courageous!
I wonder if in our world there is not more courage because we are all so fast to tear down those who are doing something we would not or could not do. Imagine how much better our families and communities and world would be if we would recognize courage and publicly declare, “You inspire me!”