Tuesday, January 5, 2021

17 - Courage

May the force be with you: COURAGE

1 – Visual example of courage in action

An example of courage in daily life: she’s giving a presentation and tells her “clients” (participants) what these really don’t want to hear and she knows that they won’t like it. So sometimes the tough thing to do is to say something that people don’t want to hear. And to say it even when they will dislike you for it. Like in this clip, if you do that, there will be no applauses and no happy faces at the end of your presentation. People like their comfortable state of “willful ignorance”, which is a defense against the tsunami of daily news overload. The advantage of willful ignorance is that it makes life much easier and it keeps you more or less in psychological balance! 

2 – Two flashlights on courage 

  • PHILOSOPHER: Can you look directly at the world? Do you have the courage? 
  • YOUTH: Courage? 
  • PHILOSOPHER: Yes, it’s a matter of courage. 
Ichiro Kishimi 
The Courage To Be Disliked

  • You may act also courageously when you are able to admit to yourself and to others that you are not very courageous. So, courage comes in many guises. 

 3 – One question 
  • Remember and write down five courageous actions you committed (or ommitted?) in your life.

Here’s to the unknown and unsung heroines and heroes of everyday life! 
We can be heroes 
just for one day
4 – Courage in everday language games

All I know about courage is that talking about it is relatively easy, whereas knowing what courage is in a given situation or acting courageously can only be experienced and demonstrated in real life. 

Furthermore, that an act is being labelled as “courageous” depends on a lot of different factors, like the interest and perspective of the observers, their cultural background, their political and moral beliefs, the historical moment, the social norms at that time, their linguistic skills, etc. It also depends on their bio-psychological state of the moment, where somebody can commit “courageous actions” that s/he wasn’t able to do a few days earlier: 

  • I think this helped. It is quite gruelling, always facing fear and heading into it, but it seemed to work. On the days when I was feeling very brave, I would say something – ahem – impossibly heroic like ‘I am going to go to the shop to get some milk. And Marmite.’ And Andrea would look at me, and say ‘On your own?’ ‘Yes. On my own. I’ll be fine.’ 
Matt Haig 
Reasons to Stay Alive 

“Courage” spoken or written as such is a word, a concept we humans use to describe actions which we consider worthy of social recognition and which most of us normally wouldn’t do. As mentioned already, it depends on social-cultural norms in a given space and at a concrete historical moment, what is considered as Courage. What one society considers as acting courageously doesn’t have to be labelled like that in another, and not even in the same culture at different times in history. 

Here is a list of some elements which should be present to consider that somebody acted courageously: 
When somebody does something out of the common, which implies a threat to his or her body-mind unit, and which is something most people wouldn’t do in that situation. 

  • The “courageous” person has to overcome her fears of being harmed, ridiculed, etc. Courage without fear is no courage, it would be just a normal everyday act for that person. 
  • Nowadays it should be an act that preserves or saves lives, not an act that destroys lives (there are probably some exceptions to that rule of thumb!). 
  • It should be an act that improves something or some relation, not making things worse (and then again, who can decide what is better and what is worse? That again depends on the point of view and interpretation of the observer). 
  • There should be an element of choice, that means, you decide how and when to act. If there is no choice, then there is no courage as such. 
  • Others: … 

Courage is not a “thing”, it is not something you can buy in a supermarket (“One pound of courage please”) nor is it something you can use daily and in any kind of situation, it's something elusive and complex when you try to define it.

In reality you don’t know whether you are able to act courageously or not until some kind of special situation occurs where you’re out of your comfort zone, in a kind of dangerous and/or uncertain situation, where you haven’t a single clue what to do next and you have to decide and act. Most people don’t think before they act courageously, it’s something automatic and therefore unconscious:
  •   … the answer typically given after someone has been profoundly brave. “What were you thinking when you dove into the river to save that drowning child?” “I wasn’t thinking—before I knew it, I had jumped in.” 
Robert M. Sapolsky 

To act with courage means to choose the decision which is harder, costlier in personal energy and time and which instills more fear than other possible decisions in that exact moment. The more skin you put into the act, like your reputation, your life, etc., the more courageous others will consider your action. 

If you die during the intent, that looks a little bit like bad luck, but others will comment that you acted recklessly and they could have told you before, but you won’t listen. So it goes. 

5 - When do we need it? 

Maybe always, but especially In certain historical circunstances, when the majority of a given society acts under the influence of a belief system that induces them to inflict pain and destructuion to others who are not part of the silent and mad majority. In these cases, everyday situations can be the occasion of acting with “real“ courage, as when Harriet Tubman organized the Underground Railway in 1872, or when the Geschwister Scholl distributed leaflets against the Nazi-regime in Germany in 1942, and in millions and zillions other situations and moments around the world. 

There should be lots of big and small acts of courage which may have changed, slowly by slowly, the life for the better for other people. In any case, all societies are structured in an unequal way, only some are more unjust and unequal than others, so there should be still plenty of room for splendid actions of courage. 

But for one act you do (commission) there are hunderts of acts you don’t do out of habit or of fear (ommission). And a failure to act, where you should have acted, reminds you that you are not as courageous as you fantazised in your daydreams: 

  • All your life, you had been sticking up for people who had been pushed around, it was the one principle you believed in above all others, but on that particular day you held your tongue and did nothing. When you look back on it now, you understand that this failure to act is the reason why you have stopped thinking of yourself as heroic: because there was no excuse. 
Paul Auster 
Winter Journal 

6 – Evolutionary aspects

You need courage to do something new, something different. Sometimes it works and sometimes it doesn’t. But it drives people and societies forward and can change a lot of things (hopefully for the better!). 

Another situation where courage comes in handy is when in real life other people don’t treat us kindly and justly. If you are always kind to all people, to friends and enemies alike, probably you are just scared of others, or it’s your default Operating System (OS), the “software program” installed into your brain early in life by your caretakers and your social environment and you are not even aware that you function with and through this special and unique OS. You’re trapped in a behavioural loop of being kind and submissive, even when others treat you badly. 

But kindness isn’t always the right behaviour, and if you are a person to good to be true ( = somebody who can’t say “NO” and can’t define and maintain personal boundaries) then – sometimes or more often - others will take advantage of you. If that occurs, you have to act with courage to be able to say no and stand for your rights and principles. In case you don’t like to stand your ground for your principles, it helps a lot to be flexible: 

These are my Principles!
If you don't like them, I have others.
Groucho Marx

7 – Courage is useful for 
  • Conquering your fears. 
  • Surpassing your self-imposed limits. 
  • To suprise yourself positively and grow mentally (or getting hurt or die in the intent!) 
  • Getting into trouble. 
  • Having your photo on the front page of some social media for about 15 seconds. 
  • To die young and get a lenghty wooden box with a coloured cloth on it as a permanent home. 
  • That others hate you because you showed them what is humanly possible and since they acted like cowards, they will never forgive you your dazzling courage. 
  • Show off and feel good about yourself. 
  • Save someones life and put yours in danger. 
  • To say in the moment what you think is just and right and afterwards you realise you’ve made a complete fool of yourself and you’ve lost your job! (although acting like a fool or clown seems to be more fun than acting like a tax collector). 
  • To see yourself as a hero/ine and not as a coward anymore. 
  • If you survive, you have a nice story to tell to anybody who really doesn’t want to listen and couldn’t care less. 
  • If your courageous act was something really big, you might sell and promote your action in books, TV, Netflix, etc. 
  • To boost your confidence and change your life (again and as always: let’s imagine for the better – whatever that means!) 
  • Others: …

To act consciously with courage you need to be strong from the inside out (or at least not be paralyzed by fear): 
Brothers and sisters 
When they insist we're just not good enough 
Well we know better 
Just look them in the eyes and say 
We're gonna do it anyway 
We're gonna do it anyway 

 In the following paragraph there are a few names of people who tried to change and sometimes changed the social reality of their time, because they didn’t like reality as it was, and they had the courage to act on it. There could be thousands or maybe millions of names but limited space and time is an all too real reality. 

Here we go: Hypatia, Olympe de Gouges, Sojourner Truth, Charles Darwin, Emily Davison, Sigmund Freud, Maria Salomea Skłodowska, Aristides de Sousa Mendes, Hendrika Gerritsen, Bhimrao Ramji Ambedkar, Simone de Beauvoir, Rosa Parks, Steve Biko, Stanislav Petrov, … 

Your choices: … 

The last person, Stanislav Petrov, saved, with an alarmingly high probability, millions of lives, and that with an action he ommitted. Sometimes not doing something is better than doing the "thing" you should have done. 

8 - Forms of courage 

Physical Courage: This is the courage that we see in movies and TV, it’s the kind of archaic courage practiced during most of the lifespan of homo sapiens on Planet Earth. Nowadays still in use, but more in sports and entertainment. Physical courage puts in danger your limbs and sometimes your life, so if you work every day for 8 hours in an office you should think twice about putting your muscle atrophied body into action. Better take your smartphone and call 911. 

Social Courage: Useful when it comes to social life in every day reality. It’s the courage to get out of bed, dress and go to work to deal with the problems and challenges of life as it is, full of sound and fury, signifying sometimes less than nothing.
Intellectual courage: It’s some kind of courage you can use to convert yourself into an outcast in your social environment. Using this courage you say and express “things” that nobody wants to hear and even less want to know about it. Good for making new enemies and losing old friends (if you still have some!). 

Moral Courage: About the same as with Intellectual courage. In the beginning you won’t be popular standing up and fighting for your rights or the rights of others, but with time, insistence and resilience you may, with a little help from your friends, change a whole society. 

Emotional courage: Being open to your emotions and feelings. A lot of people are more scared of their own emotions than of Santa Claus or their income tax declaration. Most humans, families, organizations and whole nations are emotion phobic organisms (emophob). 

Spiritual Courage: When you employ you mental and emotional energy to find a path and a personal meaning in life (which often doesn’t go all to well with the opinions of your family and friends). 

  • All paths are the same: they lead nowhere. ... Does this path have a heart? If it does, the path is good; if it doesn't, it is of no use. Both paths lead nowhere; but one has a heart, the other doesn't. One makes for a joyful journey; as long as you follow it, you are one with it. The other will make you curse your life. One makes you strong; the other weakens you. 
Carlos Castaneda
The teachings of Don Juan

9 - Shadow side of courage 

Recklessness: You put your life and that of others in danger just for the fun of it or, more common, out of profound brainless stupidity. Generally speaking, young men are quite good at that, showing and saying “look how brave and strong I am!”. It’s a signaling behavior for others, especially for young women around.

As you can see in this clip, recklessness is not only something young men do. Even a surgeon, married and with kids, who should have some kind of intact thinking faculties and should know about the fragility of the human body, can act in a reck- and brainless way. He was lucky and it looks like he has got another chance in life to find and restart his temporary lost brain functions. 

Rule of thumb # 19:

Courage is knowing it might hurt and doing it anyway.
Stupidity is the same.
And that's why life is hard.
Jerry Goldberg

10 – How to increase your courage storage 

 Start with something small, like asking your parents or your partner, when you are at home, whether you can take a soft drink from the fridge (Attention please: just kidding – but that would be a nice experiment in human reactions!). Ok, start small and continue doing it, but for stuff which is worth it, and without being a pain in the neck for others. 

  • There’s are very fine red lines between courage and recklessness and suicide by overconfident stupidity (as already mentioned, a speciality of young human males). 

 Rule of thumb # 20: 

In general and in particular, in all real and possible universes, 
cowards tend to live a lot longer 
than heroes or heroines! 

11 – Two examples of courage in literature and/or real life 

  • The soldier said something too, in a low, reasoning voice. But the second soldier shouted something that made the other two flinch. I could feel Baba tightening up next to me. Karim cleared his throat, dropped his head. Said the soldier wanted a half hour with the lady in the back of the truck. 
  • The young woman pulled the shawl down over her face. Burst into tears. The toddler sitting in her husband’s lap started crying too. The husband’s face had become as pale as the moon hovering above. He told Karim to ask “Mister Soldier Sahib” to show a little mercy, maybe he had a sister or a mother, maybe he had a wife too. The soldier listened to Karim and barked a series of words. “It’s his price for letting us pass,” Karim said. He couldn’t bring himself to look the husband in the eye. “But we’ve paid a fair price already. He’s getting paid good money,” the husband said. Karim and the soldier spoke. “He says . . . he says every price has a tax.” 
  • That was when Baba stood up. It was my turn to clamp a hand on his thigh, but Baba pried it loose, snatched his leg away. When he stood, he eclipsed the moonlight. “I want you to ask this man something,” Baba said. He said it to Karim, but looked directly at the officer. “Ask him where his shame is.” They spoke. “He says this is war. There is no shame in war.” “Tell him he’s wrong. War doesn’t negate decency. It demands it, even more than in times of peace.” 
  • Do you have to always be the hero? I thought, my heart fluttering. Can’t you just let it go for once? But I knew he couldn’t—it wasn’t in his nature. The problem was, his nature was going to get us all killed. 
  • The soldier said something to Karim, a smile creasing his lips. “Agha sahib,” Karim said, “these soldiers are not like us. They understand nothing about respect, honor.” “What did he say?” “He says he’ll enjoy putting a bullet in you almost as much as . . .” Karim trailed off, but nodded his head toward the young woman who had caught the guard’s eye. The soldier flicked his unfinished cigarette and unholstered his handgun. 
  • So this is where Baba dies, I thought. This is how it’s going to happen. In my head, I said a prayer I had learned in school. “Tell him I’ll take a thousand of his bullets before I let this indecency take place,” Baba said. … 
Khaled Hosseini 
The Kite Runner 

  • The Portuguese government forbade its consuls in France to issue visas without prior approval from the Foreign Ministry, but the consul in Bordeaux, Aristides de Sousa Mendes, decided to disregard the order, throwing to the wind a thirty-year diplomatic career. 
  • Sousa Mendes and his team worked around the clock for ten days and nights, barely stopping to sleep, just issuing visas and stamping pieces of paper. Sousa Mendes issued thousands of visas before collapsing from exhaustion. The Portuguese government – which had little desire to accept any of these refugees – sent agents to escort the disobedient consul back home, and fired him from the foreign office. 
  • Yet officials who cared little for the plight of human beings nevertheless had deep respect for documents, and the visas Sousa Mendes issued against orders were respected by French, Spanish and Portuguese bureaucrats alike, spiriting up to 30,000 people out of the Nazi death trap. 
  • Sousa Mendes, armed with little more than a rubber stamp, was responsible for the largest rescue operation by a single individual during the Holocaust. 
Yuval Noah Harari 
Homo Deus 

12 - Coda 
  • Interpretation: That is not right, I’m scared, but I have to do it anyway, come what may! 
  • Mission: Taking the hard way and not the easy one, doing the correct thing to do! (knowing what’s correct in a given situation is already complicated enough!) 
  • Duration: Short and fast in general. 
  • Shadow: Arrogance, recklessness. 
  • Force: Determination. 
  • Energy level: very high.
In some places and in more dangerous times than nowadays (depending on where you live right now), acting with courage is or can be a question of life and death: 

When they poured across the border 
I was cautioned to surrender 
This I could not do 
I took my gun and vanished 
I have changed my name so often 
I've lost my wife and children 
But I have many friends 
And some of them are with me 

An old woman gave us shelter 
Kept us hidden in the garret 
Then the soldiers came 
She died without a whisper

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