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.
Courage comes in many shapes, sizes and forms. While racing into a burning building to save lives and helping out a person who is being robbed are certainly courageous and admirable acts, even smaller occurrences can count as acts of courage.
For example, confronting a bully or asking out a secret crush out on a date both require certain levels of bravery. Therefore, acts full of courage can happen on the grand scale, but also on the smaller, day to day life level.
Grand Acts of Courage
Whether through pop culture, the media or simply living in a world where people have to be brave and face obstacles, you'll probably find yourself familiar with some of the following acts of courage:
- Harriet Tubman leading slaves to freedom on the underground railroad.
- Rosa Parks refusing to give up her seat on the bus.
- Martin Luther King Jr. standing up for equal rights.
- Joan of Arc facing harsh criticism and burning at the stake for her beliefs.
- Jesus Christ continuing to follow his faith, beliefs and mission despite being hanged on a cross, brutally beaten and attacked.
- The Pilgrims coming to the United States without any idea of what they were about to face.
- Anne Frank and her family living in secret and quiet to hide from the Nazis.
- The police, firefighters and citizens who rushed into buildings to save lives on September 11, 2001.
- The people aboard Flight 93 who prevented the terrorists from attacking the United States Capitol.
- Charles Lindbergh making the first nonstop flight from New York to Paris.
- Mother Teresa living amongst the poorest of the poor and helping them to thrive, learn and grow.
- Sir Edmund Hillary's climbing up Mount Everest.
- The American revolutionaries fighting for their freedom against Britain.
- All those who fought in the Civil War to end slavery.
- All those who have fought and who fight today for civil rights and equal rights.
- Women and men who put their lives and reputations on the line fighting for voting rights for women.
- People working for peace with global movements such as the Red Cross, UNICEF and the Peace Corps.
- Military personnel and their families defending the freedom of the United States.
These acts, and similar acts, demand great deals of courage. Many of these people put themselves in harm's way in order to do what is right.
Courage on a Daily Basis
Not all acts of courage need to be known worldwide to be defined as brave. Here are some examples of ways to be courageous in daily life.
- Trying a food that you've never tried before.
- Engaging in a new experience.
- Asking someone out on a date.
- Doing something that might be a little risky such as sky diving or riding a bike for the first time.
- Standing up for a person who is being picked on.
- Asking for a promotion or a raise at work.
- Helping out a person or animal in need, even if it might put you in a little bit of danger.
- Standing up for yourself.
- Leaving an abusive relationship.
- Taking a stand against an unfair social or economic practice.
- Doing something by yourself for the first time.
- Making a public presentation about something you believe in.
- Standing up against racism or prejudice.
- Leaving a job that you don't like and trying to find a new one.
- Signing up for a program or class that intimidates you.
- Checking out a soup kitchen, volunteer program, etc. to see if they offer any connections in helping to be more courageous.
Engaging in small acts such as the ones mentioned above can eventually lead you down the road toward more global acts of courage. Simply getting involved with a volunteer opportunity at the local level can open doors to bigger projects involving human rights or rescue opportunities.