It’s pretty hard to knock courage. It’s the stuff we wish for ourselves, for our heroes, our children—sometimes the difference between life and death, often the difference between failure and success. Many writers talk about the courage necessary to submit a novel, to pitch to an agent, to just begin that first sentence. Perhaps our standing example of courage is the firefighter: he or she who rushes heedless toward danger in the name of helping others. I have never run into a burning building, but I hope, should the need arise, I would have what is called the courage to do so.
All that said, I have long had a slight distrust of the modern concept of courage. That is, courage is seen as that which is necessary to act in the face of events for which the only rational response is fear. There is nothing we can do about the fear, but with some courage, we can do what is necessary anyways. We will grit out teeth, lower our head, and just do it, as if fear were a wind against which we must choose to run a marathon.
In fact, I have heard courage described this way. That without fear, there would be no need for courage. That fear is the difference between the courageous and the ignorant. If you know there’s a lion in the cave, it takes courage to enter it; not so much if you believe the cave is empty.
But the Latin root for courage is cor—heart. This seems more the point. I believe the choice that is always before is not fear or determination, fear or resolve, but fear or well-being. I have been afraid of much in my life, and always that which I was afraid of turned out to be a kind of mirage. All that has ever come to pass in my life has been the next moment.
The worst thing you can do is admit there is anything in life that deserves your fear. Even death, the Boogie Man of fears, is as unknown as every tomorrow. So in that moment when you feel the temptation of fear, do as the word says, seek your heart, your continuous well-being, knowing that true courage is not acting in spite of fear, but acting without something that had never existed in the first place.
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