cour·age ( Pronunciation Key (kûrj, kr-) n.
The state or quality of mind or spirit that enables one to face danger, fear, or vicissitudes with self-possession, confidence, and resolution; bravery.
What makes the Hottentot so hot? What puts the "ape" in apricot? What have they got that I ain't got?
-The Cowardly Lion
There was, a few years ago, an urban legend circulating amongst college students of a philosophy class at an unnamed college, with a articularly eccentric professor. For the final exam if this class, he handed to each student a single sheet upon which was printed a single question: What is courage?
Legend has it that one student answered this question with an equally brief answer, two words simply stating: "This is." Legend so says that this student recieved the only A.
Such a stunt would certainly require a good deal of courage, however this student did not define courage, he acted as an example. Courage is taking action despite one's fears, anxieties or inhibitions. Greek mythology is littered with heros who performed great tasks...there is the story of Bellerophon, a young Corinthian prince who goes off in search of adventure. Proteus, a jealous companion wishes for the death of Bellerophon so he sends him to Iobates, the king of Lycia with a sealed letter that requests Bellerophon be killed. Lycia was plagued by the Chimera, a monster which woud attack the land, and retreat, taking with it women, children and livestock. As Bellerophon was a Corinthian prince, Iobates did not want to risk war by killing him outright. Instead he charged him with the task of killing the Chimera, thinking that Bellerophon could not possibly survive. Accepting the task, Bellerophon first sought the advice of a wise man who suggested spending the night in a temple of Athena, making lavish offerings to Her that she may give him the means to slay the Chimera. He did, and that night dreamed of the goddess giving him a golden bridle with which to tame the wild, winged horse Pegasus and showing him where to find him. Bellerophon woke the next monrning to find the golden bridle by his side, set out to find Pegasus, and then to the Chimera. Riding on the back of Pegasus, he was able to slay the monster, and returned to Iobates with the Chimera's head. The kingdom rejoiced, and as reward, Bellerophon was wed to the daughter of Iobates, later taking his place when the king died.
The ancients lauded acts of bravery and courage, and it is an admiration that is no less admired in contemporary society. One of the most popular fictional characters today, Harry Potter, faces all manner of challenges, from dealing with a nasty, ill-tempered Uncle Vernon to a war with Lord Voldemort, the most powerful, evil wizard that ever lived. On a more serious note, our country, referred in song to the "land of the free and the home of the brave", is full of monuments to soldiers who have served and died in wars and battes. In many towns and cities, parades and other festivities are held on Memorial Day, Veterans Day, and other occasions to recognize the service of those in the armed forces, an occupation which, by its very natures, requires courage of its people.In 2001, after the tragedy of September 11th, memorials and tributes were offered around the country- and around the world- to the victimms and survivors. Special attention was also paid to law enforcement officials, fire fighters, millitary personnel and to those who died while trying to stop the hijackers. One plane was stopped, crashed into a field in rural western Pennsylvania.
On a smaller scale, courage is shown by people every day- elementary school children standing up to playground bullies, office workers risking their jobs to face a tyrannical boss, homosexual men and women coming out to their family and friends, a small child sleeping without a night light for the first time...these are al events which require one to move through and beyond their fears and anxieties, despite the risks getting laughed at or beat up, losing a job, being shunned by one's family, being eaten by the closet monster.
During my senior year of high school, within the span of less than a week in late January or early February, I had to deal with my best friend dying of cancer, and the students in my school revolting over the resignation of a very popular principal in the midst of a scandal. I cannot have made a judgement on the character of the appointed principal pro tempore, however as the replacement for one who was one of the most well-liked and respected school administrators in anyone's memory, parents, students and teachers alike were all set against him. About a week after all this happened, during the school board's meeting to officially accept the resignation- which I attended- in the middle of students, parents, administrators and teachers coming to speak on his behalf, the mother of one of my classmates stood up and berated the new principal. She was angry with the fact that a school-wide announcement had not been made to alert students to the fact that my friend, Alex had passed away. Instead, three students had been dispatched to circulate among the classrooms of seniors and deliver the news. This angered her and she brought it to the greatest audience that she could, and this caught the emotion of many of those who were present.
As it happened, I was in line to speak just after this lady. What I had planned to say had nothing to do with the incident, we were only given a minute or two to speak, and each person was only allowed to speak once. I was still fresh in my grief, I was not prepared to even think about this incident, but it was forced upon me. I could have left wel enough alone, and allowed the crowd to be angry at this man, a complete stranger whom at that point, I had never even met but...it just wasn't true. I gave up my turn to speak for the man who had won the schools respect and liking, and my hopes that what I had to say, a speck in the masses of defense, would make a difference in the situation and on a second's notice, the only thing I could do was to defend a stranger whose only crime was that of being asked to take this place. It would have been easy to let this stack as further fuel for the prejudice. All I had to do was say what I planned to say in the first place. I had no idea how eople would react...but I was the one who would not allow an announcement to be made. Alex was my best friend, and she had said that she wouldn't want such a thing to happen. On the day that she died, I was in school. When the fact that school administrators wanted to make the annoucement by public address, I stopped it, and said that instead I and two others would go to classes and spread the appropriate information. The next week, when the excitement of scandal had died down somewhat, it was only after my agreement that a brief, quiet announcement was made to the school, and if people had a problem with it, they could take it up with me. I am still not sure why people took this so harshly as they did. I supose the shock of a student dying in the middle of such an aready tense and emotional time made reactions worse than normal...It was obvious that many people were upset by how things were handled, I could see it in some people's faces, but who would openly criticize me so soon after the fact, and for somehting they might have done themselves?
Often we find that when faced with a tough situation, we are able to act in a manner much more courageous than we previously thought possible, In the movie The Wizard of Oz, the Cowardly Lion is scared of everythign, including his own shadow. He can't sleep at night because he's afraid of nightmares. He wants to see the wizard in hopes that he will give him courage, so he sets out with Dorothy, the Scarecrow and Tin Man to see thie wizard. Upon their audience, the wizard says that he will grant their requests...if they go to the Wicked Witch Of The West and bring back her broomstick. During this mission, the witch captures Dorothy and the other three must rescue her. In the process the witch is liquefied and they return with the broomstick. Once they return, and the true identity of the wizard is revealed, he pulls a small token out of a bag for each of the travellers, and explains to them how each already had within him what he sought, and gave a comparison, in the case of the Lion, to valiant soldiers. Courage, what allows us to act through our fears, comes from within and its depths within us are often not known until it is time to find it. Such was the case of the Cowardly Lion.