Austerity Series: Courage

Courage is acting despite, not without fear.


From latin cor, meaning “heart.”

Mental or moral strength to venture, persevere and withstand danger, fear or difficulty.  

Merriam-Webster Dictionary

Courage comes from love.  It is acting despite – not without – fear, for the sake of something worth fighting for- worth sacrificing for. 
I love God, and my faith is worth fighting for.  I love my country, and it is worth fighting for.  I love my family, and they are worth protecting with my very life.  

We all face fear, face the risk of losing a person, losing a dream, losing safety… losing life.  Such risks can make the toughest man falter, turn back from doing what he should; turn back from being who he was made to be.  Men who could have done great and noble things now live comfortable, safe and mediocre lives because when faced with that coldness of risk, they made a decision to back away.

There’s certain things we have no choice about in life.  Famously this includes death and taxes, but also more than that.  Pain, adversity and loss are a feature of every life.  If this is so, then the risk of these things happening will be an even bigger feature of life!  Nor are we alone in this.  The life of Christ was filled with danger, adversity, pain and loss, even before he was born.  His own mother risked being stoned to death for having agreed to have him.  

Hippocrates cured many diseases then died of disease himself.  The Chaldean astrologers foretold the deaths of many people, then their own fated day claimed them.  Alexander, Pompey, Julius Caesar annihilated whole cities time after time, and slaughtered tens of thousands of horse and foot in the field of battle, and yet the moment came for them too to depart this life.  Heraclitus speculated long on the fire of the universe, but the water of dropsy filled his guts and he died caked in a medicine made of cow-dung.  Vermin were the death of Democritus, and vermin of another sort killed Socrates.  What of it, then?  You embarked, you set sail, you made port.  Go ashore now.

Marcus Aurelius

If death and pain are certain, and the risk of it is also certain, then there is little point in seeking to avoid those things.  If it’s a part of life, then there is nowhere to run.  The only thing that is optional is how we react when racing those risks.  

Christ, for his part, knew his whole life the fate that awaited him on a particular day in Jerusalem.  But he always chose to not stray from his mission and to go there anyway.  His mother was told of God’s plan for her when she was only fourteen or fifteen- she knew she risked being ostracized and perhaps death for being pregnant before marriage.  In their examples, the value of the plan was worth sacrificing for, so they dove in despite the risks.  They were courageous, and because of their courage we have salvation offered to us!  

Examine the story of any hero and it’s easy to identify what gave them the “heart” to push through fear or risk.  The knight in shining armor risks to save the princess.  

It doesn’t even have to be people or something getting saved.  It can be for a principle, for something we’re seeking- pursuing a dream, accomplishing a goal, even just being bold, adventurous, and breaking out of the confinement of your comfort zone can be worth risking for.  

A ship in harbor is safe… but that is not what ships are for.

John A. Shedd

A fighter who’s afraid of getting hit won’t win many fights, and will get hit anyway.  Ask yourself, “what am I here for?  What was I made to do?  Was I made to go through life easily, avoiding difficulty, avoiding challenge and pain (physical or emotional)?  Or was I made to “dive in”, come what may, embracing every difficulty as another means of making myself (and what I’m doing) better?

Just as once a woman’s reputation for purity has been sullied it can never be restored, so once the reputation [of a man] has been stained through cowardice… even if only once, it always remains defiled in the eyes of the world.

Baldassare Castiglione, “How to Achieve True Greatness”

Think about what giving into fear does to us.  When a man acts out of fear, backing down from what he said he would do or what he should do, it becomes and immediate habit.  Like heat stroke, once it’s happened, it’s much more likely to happen again.  Fear is like that- it can set up camp in our lives, becoming more and more something that tells us what to do (or to do nothing).  Some men will go down this road their whole lives, fleeing everything that has even a little bit of risk.  They are nice and comfortable while they rot away, never acting boldly, losing vigor, flavor and meaning.

Unlike heat stroke, fear can be reversed.  With hard work, we can turn our lives around, reclaiming everything lost to fear, acting directly against our fears.  

Courage is being scared to death and saddling up anyway.

John Wayne

If you want an end, you must learn to desire the means.  Taking steps to facing fearful, stressful things is never going to be easy, pleasant or enjoyable.  You will probably always hate it.  However it’s precisely those difficult, unpleasant steps which take you where you want to be, form you into who you want to be.  The hardest step forward is usually the most formative and most helpful.  That’s why doing things to face fear, anxiety and to achieve your goals are something you should love despite hating.  In fact, you should love it because you hate it.  

There are some practical, tangible methods to help us mentally and physically when confronting fears, anxiety or extreme stress.  A series of methods from psychology are  taught to the U.S. Navy Seals, who endure more fear, anxiety and stress in a few months than most people will encounter in a lifetime.  

These methods help keep us focused on what was worth risking for in the first place, help keep us motivated mot to give up, and help us control ourselves better in the face of fear:

“Goal Setting”:  Just like it sounds, goal setting is about having a very strong sense of your goal- your reason for facing whatever particular fear or anxiety.  Without a goal, without an “end” you want to achieve, what motivation would there be?

“Mental Rehearsal”:  Often times we know exactly what even, scenario or challenge it is we are afraid of.  “Mental Rehearsal” means literally imagining yourself very vividly, successfully dealing with this challenge.  Doing so frequently helps us to keep our response to the frightening, stressful or challenging situation much calmer and more courageous.

“Self-Talk”:  Everyone talks to themselves.  In a fearful situation this usually consists of a pretty negative monologue. “I can’t do this,” “I’m going to fail,” “I’m going to quit,” etc. But here again we have the ability to choose to overcome. Positive self-talk means exactly what you’d imagine.

Put simply, courage can be trained, just like physical strength. Purposefully targeting those things in us that we have found to be weak, lifting what is “hard” for us, and gradually as we adapt, lifting things that are slightly heavier. And the only way to make forward progress, breaking free from our chains of fear, is to identify where our courage is “weak” and take on little things in little chunks, gradually progressing.

Very simple examples that work for children (and just as well for adults) could include jumping into a pool from gradually higher diving boards for someone afraid of heights. Or speaking in front of first one or two people, then gradually more and more for those whose “weakness” is stage fright. For someone who performs any given task fine normally but falls flat when being tested, the answer is of course to be exposed to constant testing, until the mind overcomes that hurdle easily.

Rule: Identify the things that frighten you. As much as possible, even every day if you can, take those things on in a small way.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *