A word that evokes both a mental image and an emotional response, that conjures up the image of the heroic acts of the physically strong, an soul-based acknowledgement of the passion and drive to perform that act.
Courage, defined by some, is the ability to do something that frightens one, or strength in the face of pain or grief. Courage, defined by others, is not the absence of fear but the triumph over that fear. Or to put courage into another context is “Dutch Courage”: strength or confidence gained from drinking alcohol.
Yet I heard a definition of courage on Sunday night that has stuck like a barbed thorn in my mind, and refuses as yet to be easily removed. Courage: the act of doing the right thing, regardless of the consequences. It’s been churning around in my mind almost non-stop.
Doing the right thing
What is doing the right thing? Or more importantly, what is the right thing? Is it running into a burning house to check for inhabitants? Is it performing first aid on a stranger in the street? Of course. The right thing can be as simple as an everyday event, those oftimes yes/no choices we have to make in our mundane, day-to-day existence – will I let that car merge in front of me, will I choose the slightly cheaper option so I have money to donate/give, will I prefer the other person?
Will I choose to put down my selfish desires to serve another? Will I share in the happiness when another’s success means the temporary delay of my own? Will I share the grief and sadness when life takes its inexorable toll on another? And will I consciously give to another of the resource that we can’t create more of and are most afraid of not having enough of; that of time.
Will I choose to raise my voice and lift my hand for those around me, locally or globally, whose voice is not heard and hands are not seen? Will I speak out for the refugees, the abused, the orphaned, the homeless, the sidelined, the forgotten or the unpopular?
The right thing is not necessarily a simple clear cut choice. It morphs and crystallises constantly around us, fracturing and forming again, and has to be mapped against our moral compass, filtered and sifted against the framework and foundation of our belief system.
Regardless of the consequences
Most times, choosing the right thing is easy; it’s the execution of it and the consequences of that action that gives us pause. It’s the mental play-out of the unfolding ripple-effects of that choice that puts the hand-brake on our willingness to act. What will my friends/family/workmates think? How will I defend making a stand for what may be an unpopular choice.
It is this fragment of courage’s definition that has me hooked, I fear. How easy it is to do the right thing when there is no cost. Yet how often is the actual cost of courage personified, accounted and accepted in the busy-ness of our day-to-day hub-bub and noise and then held into the balance of our lives? For me, it’s become a realisation that, in the matters that really count, courage is actually borne out of forethought and planning, the knitting and melding of our pre-determined decisions, woven into the fabric of our lives like finely spun steel, so that the ‘act’ of doing the right thing has already been determined by the ‘consideration’ of the consequences prior to the act ever occurring.
A lot of people complain of not having a purpose, of drifting along in life, massaged by the eddys and currents in the everyday, their opinions swayed by the media or social networking. Instead of having a moral compass, choices are made based on circumstance and social pressures, living to curry the favour of others. For me, personally, its time to revisit and re-write down my five core values. And to then make choices and pre-make decisions, that align with those values. To live in the confidence and the simplicity that comes from clearly knowing what’s important to me, and walking according to that.