Monday, April 15, 2013

Courage - part 1


All adventures, especially into new territory are scary. - Sally Ride

The Bible exhorts people to have courage (e.g., 1 Chronicles 22:13; Psalm 31:24; John 16:33) and offers examples of God's people being courageous (e.g., Amaziah doing battle against the Edomites (2 Chronicles 25:11) and Paul in the face of opposition (1 Thessalonians 2:2). Unfortunately, the Bible does not include a definition of courage.

Aristotle thought courage was the first of the virtues. He situates courage as the contextually appropriate mean between the deficiency of cowardice and the excess of rashness. The courageous person, for example, would neither avoid every danger nor seek out every danger. Instead, the courageous person avoids acts that risk life or limb without realistic hope of gain such as riding a motorcycle without a helmet while accepting reasonable and proportional risks such as riding in an automobile while wearing a seatbelt.

But what are the constituent elements of courage? Courage, defined as doing/acting when afraid, has at least three components:

1.      Hope. The courageous person has a reasonable expectation or hope that his/her act, even if self-sacrificial, will make a difference for the better.

2.      Self-respect. The courageous person respects her or himself sufficiently to be unwilling to act cowardly, i.e., with a lack of courage.

3.      Self-confidence. The courageous person has sufficient self-confidence to take the risk, stepping into the unknown (or at least into what is unknown territory for the individual), uncertain of what will happen.

4.      Willingness to take risks. The courageous person does not avoid risks but assesses potential outcomes and takes what he/she deems reasonable, proportionate risks.

A willingness to take risks depends upon an ability to assess risk utilizing prudential judgment (the second of the four cardinal virtues) and trust, as contextually appropriate, in self, others, God, or things.

Hope, self-respect, and self-confidence may depend upon genetics; environmental factors including family nurture, achievement, popularity, etc. also determine and shape one's hope, self-respect, and self-confidence.

There are at least two types of courage: moral courage and physical courage. Moral courage tests one's character and integrity. Does the person have the intestinal fortitude to choose and act rightly? Physical courage tests one's willingness to risk limb and life.

Aristotle believed that the battlefield provided the ultimate test of courage, with possible death adding a unique degree of ultimacy to the danger faced. However, people may face similar or even greater risks as first responders (official or otherwise, such as the man who several weeks ago jumped on to New York City subway tracks in the face of an onrushing train to pull a man who had fallen on the tracks to safety).

The evangelical preacher Charles Swindoll disagreed with Aristotle, believing moral courage greater than physical courage: "Courage is not limited to the battlefield or the Indianapolis 500 or bravely catching a thief in your house. The real tests of courage are much deeper and much quieter. They are the inner tests, like remaining faithful when nobody's looking, like enduring pain when the room is empty, like standing alone when you're misunderstood."

Whatever you do, you need courage. Whatever course you decide upon, there is always someone to tell you are wrong. There are always difficulties arising that tempt you to believe that your critics are right. To map out a course of action and follow it to the end, requires some of the same courage that a soldier needs. - Ralph Waldo Emerson

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