Summary: Possessing courage involves more than simply being brave. The motivations and thoughts that exist within a particular action define courage; without good intentions and motivations, the value of courage in an action is lost.
If an act is performed that has no thought behind, it loses its value. In the words of orator and lawyer Robert Green Ingersoll, "Courage without conscience is a wild beast." One should give some thought to an action before acting upon it. Without thought, or "conscience", the action can be untimely and uncontrolled as would a "wild beast." In 1999, two young men went on a shooting rampage at Columbine High School. This rash action, lacking conscience or concept of right and wrong, did not exhibit courage.
Rather, good intentions and motivations should fuel courageous actions. As British author Samuel Johnson states, "Bravery has no place where it can avail nothing." In other words, courage or bravery is worthless and unnecessary if the final outcome cannot be beneficial. For example, the terrorists involved with the September 11th tragedy were not considered to be courageous here in the United States. Their actions caused grief and sorrow. Nothing positive resulted from their actions, so the United States and her allies looked upon this as a cowardly action.
Courage is defined by the motivations and thoughts that exist within the action. If these do not exist, the value of courage is lost. As with the terrorists and the two young men at Columbine, their actions did indeed require nerve. However, they cannot be seen as courageous because of the lack of good motivation and value behind them. Even if one's courageous action does not turn out to be effective, others will know that the right intentions existed. For that, they will recognize true courage.
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The dictionary definition of courage as per the Oxford English Dictionary is ‘the ability to do something that frightens one’, but is it really that simple? Courage is often portrayed as physical bravery in books and movies which see the hero making a sacrifice for the greater good. However, courage can be more than a physical act. Think of social activists and those speaking out against injustice. They too are displaying courage, albeit a different type of courage. We can also consider entrepreneurs like Walt Disney or Steve Jobs as being courageous people given the financial risks that they took in order to pursue a dream. There are different types of courage ranging from physical strength and endurance to mental stamina, innovation and emotional bravery. Let’s take a look at the various different attributes of courage.
One of the most common displays of courage is when someone chooses to act despite the fact that they feel fear regarding the task or feat in front of them. This is probably what most people think of when they think of courage. Some examples of this type of courage would be firefighters running into a burning building or someone trying skydiving for the first time! Courage in this sense is not about being fearless, but rather it is about triumphing despite being afraid. The same can said of courage in situations where the individual perseveres even in the face of great adversity. Haven’t we all commented on how courageous a Paralympic athlete is for working to overcome their disability and excel in a sport? This is a slightly different take on the idea of physical courage or bravery in that it is not so much that the person is scared, but that they are facing a challenge which a less courageous person might see as insurmountable. Another variation on this is courage which takes the form of facing suffering with dignity and grace. How we react in terrible situations can speak volumes about out character and those who are able to face humiliation, suffering or degradation and still keep their composure could also be deemed to have great courage. A great illustration of this comes from popular culture. In the television show Outlander, there is an important scene where the hero, Jamie Fraser, is given 200 lashes leaving his back permanently disfigured. However, throughout the ordeal he refuses to cry out even although he must be in terrible pain. He bore his suffering with dignity and poise and was therefore behaving in a courageous manner.
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However, courage is not always about these more physical aspects of bravery. Courage can also come from a more emotional place. There are a number of examples of how a person could exhibit this type of courage including following their dreams despite the risks that doing so involves financially or emotionally. This is the type of courage that can be attributed to pioneering entrepreneurs like Walt Disney and Steve Jobs. Similarly, courage can be show when someone stands up for what they believe is right. This includes speaking out against injustice and some of the well known people to have shown this type of courage would include the likes of Martin Luther King and Nelson Mandela. It takes courage to speak your mind, especially if your opinion is in the minority. Finally, we could also say that courage comes from being brave enough to step out of your comfort zone and explore new horizons. Without the courage of explorers and adventures there would be a great many things that we would not have discovered about the world in which we live. Take Christopher Columbus who was among the first explores to challenge the concept that the world was flat. Where would we be now if he had been to afraid to sail towards the horizon just in case he was wrong? It took great courage for him to leave his familiar world and set of in search of new places that he couldn’t even be sure really existed.
In conclusion, while courage is usually defined as acting despite fear it is actually a much more complex attribute. Depending on the situation that an individual is actually in, they will have the opportunity to demonstrate courage in a number of different ways whether that means taking a stand and speaking out against injustice or physically overcoming something that triggers a fearful response.