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“When you hear them yell, “Man Overboard!” What’s your first thought? What’s your first action?” – Claude Hamilton
Courage is a word that is tossed around but is not always fully understood in its application. When we talk about brave or courageous people, it is usually about other people, never ourselves. Somehow we have difficulty imagining ourselves as having courage We can toss the word around easily enough but is the essence of courage?
Courage is what has brought us to where are in history and courage is what we will need to go into the future. It is not a one time feeling for a singular choice or action; it is what is inside of us, a part of who we are. It is a muscle needing to be strengthened and trained. Courage is what is behind perseverance and not giving up even when everything in us screams that we should.
In his book entitled Toughen Up, author Claude Hamilton, a former member of an elite unit in the Canadian Armed Forces, discusses courage from his unique perspective. He wrote:
” Don’t show me a person’s résumé; show me what he or she is willing to fight or die for. Show me how much a person will keep doing the right thing even when it gets really hard.”
As he describes his training where he and others were being pushed to the very limits of their physical, mental and emotional capacity, where their minds and bodies were screaming to rest, he says they were learning an important lesson about courage. What would happen in that very moment when they heard “Man Overboard”?
“Our bodies cried out for us to just sit tight and get some air, but the whole point of the drill was to come face- to- face with our inner courage. Would our body win out? Would we sit up and try to breathe? Or would we leap to our feet and sprint to the call for help?……. It was a profound test. and we found out a lot about ourselves when we ran and jumped into the water, no matter how badly our bodies protested. Courage is like that; you really don’t know if you’ll use it until you do” (p.54)
Courage doesn’t just happen. We can not just call upon it when we have not trained ourselves to use it. We train ourselves for applying courage by doing the right things and making the right (and often hard) choices consistently even when doing so is not comfortable and is often tough Courage is a habit built over time. Vince Lombardi said:
“Fatigue makes cowards of us all. Toughness is about preparing ourselves in such a way that fatigue has less power over us.”
We build our courage over time by doing the little things making the seemingly unimportant or unnoticed decisions day by day. We refuse to cut corners. We don’t listen to our excuses. We go the extra mile when no one else will We “toil upwards in the night while everyone else is “sleeping”.” People who build up the courage habit “build the right habits in the little things who generally have the natural courage to do the right things when it’s really hard” (p. 57)
In his book entitled Courage, author and business consultant Gus Lee talks about core values with three values being the highest:
He describes courage as being:
“The mental and moral strenght to venture, perservere and wiithstand danger, fear or difficulty”
He describes courage as being “the tip of the spear of integrity” It is what converts integrity into action. so, clearly, this author also agrees that courage is a habit of doing what is right over time. Courage forces us to confront, address and fix what is wrong, whether in ourselves or outside of ourselves. It is having the “guts” to do what we do not feel like doing. Gus Lee describes the opposite of courage as indifference.
We will all fail and we all have times where we quit. after all, we are human. But we should know that when we quit (fail to be courageous), we don’t just quit the thing (activity, situation, or circumstance) we say we are quitting; we are also quitting on ourselves, on our future and on those around us. Quitting is not an isolated decision. What would have happened if Winston Churchill had decided to “throw in the towel” and cave in to Hitler? What would have happened if Harriet Tubman had decided enough was enough and had sought peace and security for herself? Courage takes us beyond ourselves to doing what we have trained ourselves to do and refusing to listen to ourselves and our feelings.
Courage is not the absence of fear; it is the ability to know that we are afraid but are willing to face the fear and march towards it. Fear allows us to be precautious, but courage is action.
“It is when you know you’re licked before you begin, but you begin anyway and see it through no matter what” – Harper Lee, author of To Kill A Mockingbird
Courage is also intricately conned to love. It is a quality of unselfishness and sacrifice. It defines what we stand for because ultimately what we stand for we will also sacrifice for. When we love something or someone (our country, our people, our family), we naturally are able to find the courage to stand up for them. Love gives us courage; it is that simple. There can be no courage without love. We call people courageous for doing things that maybe we wouldn’t be able to do, but if this “courageous act” is not unselfish or sacrificial, can it really be called courageous? We can not confuse courage with daring or foolhardiness.
Where there is courage, there will also be a risk. We must be willing to put our heart out on a limb and trust. As long as we are overprotective of ourselves and our feelings, we are in the service of fear. Nothing of any value can be defended, improved, or discovered without courage.
“Man cannot discover new oceans unless he has the courage to lose sight of the shore”. – Nobel Prize winner, André Gide
Lastly, it is important to remember that courage is not a reflection of our abilities, nor is it something some have, but others don’t. Courage comes from the heart. In fact, the very lexical root of the word courage is “heart”. It is what is in our heart that determines our ability to do a thing. We may feel like we are unable. We may feel like we want to quit or give up, but none of theses reactions are the reality; they are just feelings. Maybe we feel that we do not possess the ability to do something, but the heart ignores our excuses and our feelings and just does it.
“Whether you leap or run, slowly rise, or just sit there, the outcome will have been mostly determined weeks and months before by how well you did the little things that really matter. The habit of doing the right thing is the foundation of courage. So do the little things now. – Take courage and take action!” – Claude Hamilton
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Diana Lynne’s passions are family, travel, self-improvement, and the pursuit of a debt-free life. She loves hanging out with family, friends and being with her dog Skye. Diana is a Quebec City girl. who loves living life. You can connect with her through Livingandstuff.ca