Monday, March 28, 2016

What is Courage?

I am continuing to study the concept of courage for an article that has been requested and am thankfully now able to write one that I am satisfied with. It is tentatively titled, 'Do The Martial Arts Teach Courage?' I will be submitted a draft to be published very soon, however, the below is an insight I've gained based on my study of the 'enigma of courage,' as General Sir Peter de la Billiere refers to it.

What is courage? That has mystified people since Plato wrote Laches nearly 2500 years ago and probably even before. Books continue to be written about the subject which is exemplified by William Ian Miller The Mystery of Courage in 2002 (well worth the read if not to study). It remains a mystery today.

The image to the right contains a statement regarding the relationship between courage and fear. An understanding and appreciation of this relationship is extremely important when considering action in violent encounters.

Was Corporal Ben Roberts-Smith act that earned him the Australia Victoria Cross courageous? It was only a courageous act by definition if Roberts-Smith was scared. If Roberts-Smith was scared but acted anyway, the next question might be how much was he scared. Is there a quantity of fear that qualifies an act as courageous? Terrified and acting would qualify, but does mildly nervous and acting?

With regards to fearlessness (which by definition is not courage even though some medal recipients are described as exhibiting 'fearless courage' which is an oxymoron by definition), Miller explains,

It is striking how many of those uses of the word 'fearless' do not pretend to describe the inner state of the actor. They are meant rather to register the awe of the observer.

The same can be said of courage. We often do not know the inner state of the actor when we describe them as courageous but are in fact expressing our awe at their actions. But what actually made them act in the face of danger is of immense interest to those teaching and training to engage in a violent encounter. That is the real question. One that the enigmatic, mysterious, and ambiguous concept of courage does not answer.

Maybe more on that later.

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