The Case For Courage

I gave this pin to Jose on our wedding day. (Copyright Marie de Jesus.)

I think courage is, these days, an under-rated quality.

People who encourage us aren’t merely hissing “Great job!” for every breath we take.

When we truly need to find our inner strength, we need someone to encourage us — to breathe some of that holy fire into our shaky lungs.

We think of the courageous as those fighting in war (they are) or those facing very bad diagnoses or anyone stepping off the cliff of the known and familiar and secure.

A courageous woman is someone who, however reluctantly, her vows shattered by years of abuse or neglect, leaves a terrible marriage, maybe with nothing ahead but weeks or months on a relative’s sofa or a homeless shelter or a women’s shelter. A courageous man decides to marry after years of bachelor freedom, aware of his new responsibility to his bride, her family and to himself.

A courageous teenager steps up when s/he sees someone being bullied and, whenever possible, puts an end to it.

A courageous teacher sees the pilot light of potential in a struggling, sullen or silent child.Ā  A courageous politician is willing to take a stand, take a hit, take a fall for making the right choices, not simply the easiest or those guaranteed to win media attention or large donations.

I am hungry to learn more about men and women of courage. I am weary of a culture that far too often celebrates, rewards and deifies cowardice and greed.

Here’s a lovely post by Canadian blogger Josh Bowman about a fellow Canadian who inspired him as a teenager, and who still does. In it, he talks about Craig Kielburger, who at the age of 12 decided to create an international campaign to end the use of child labor.

He didn’t do it to burnish his resume or to get into the right college; (Canadian universities don’t use essays anyway, just good grades, to decide whom to admit.) He did it out of a blazing sense of compassion. He makes me proud to be a Canadian.

So does this little girl, who I’ve also blogged about, Alaina Podmorow, who did the same for girls when she, too was very young. She still is!

In 1957, the late President John F. Kennedy won the Pulitzer prize for his book, Profiles in Courage, about political leaders he admired. I was thrilled when three women recently won the Nobel Peace Prize:

The 10 million kronor ($1.5 million) award was split three ways between Liberian President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, peace activist Leyma Gbowee from the same African country and democracy activist Tawakkul Karman of Yemen ā€” the first Arab woman to win the prize.

Role models!

I hate the overused word “hero”. I dislike its bombastic pomposity. I doubt many of us want to be, or feel we are, heroes.

But we can all, every single day, be courageous.

Who do you look to as examples of courage?

Here’s a video of a wonderful song by Greg Greenway that sums it up, “Do What Must Be Done.”

14 thoughts on “The Case For Courage

  1. Lisa (Woman Wielding Words)

    I love your list. As I was reading, I had a little flash of memory to my childhood. I had a Hebrew School teacher named Mrs. Sekler who pulled me aside one day to share her story of survival in the Holocaust. I don’t recall her story, but I remember her showing me the numbers, faded into a dark blue on her arm. She did not share her story with everyone, but she shared it with me for reasons unknown. Perhaps she recognized in me someone who fights injustice whenever I can. Courage to me doesn’t always come in a package that everyone can see, but in the quiet story of individuals who experienced the unbelievable and lived to share their stories, even with just one child.

    1. What an extraordinary moment. That’s life-changing, I think, to have someone so trust and respect you as a child that they would reveal this to you at so early an age. She clearly did see (as we all can) who you were and would become. I, too, spend a lot of my time and energy trying to help others; I sit on the board of a group that offers grants to financially desperate writers and we send out checks of up to $4,000 within a week to those who qualify.

      I so wish our culture and media much more often lauded courage, not material wealth or absurd “talent.” People who want(ed) recognition might go a different route. But, you know, courage isn’t something you DO. It’s who you are.

      1. Lisa (Woman Wielding Words)

        Perhaps it is up to us to celebrate more of these people. The other day I wrote a post celebrating a few of the amazing people I’ve been lucky to meet in my life. I could make a list that goes on forever, and I may just continue to explore the topic. Thank you for inspiring me with your post and comment today.

      2. I like this idea…maybe make it (?) a weekly feature…someone, somewhere, who inspired us this week.

        I went last night to catch the final few days of the Lionel Feininger show at the Whitney. I could barely tear myself away! Holy shit. It literally made me long to start drawing and painting again. Talk about inspiration! Both his sisters died of TB while young and the Nazis made a public spectacle of him as degenerate…so he moved back to the U.S. What a story. What astonishing images (his early work is AMAZING…and the bloody catalog is sold out. No wonder.)

        And he is buried in Hastings, NY, a town I can drive to in 15 minutes. I might go visit his grave.

  2. Lisa (Woman Wielding Words)

    The wheels are turning. I love that idea of a weekly feature celebrating inspirational people. I just looked up Feininger. Amazing pieces and a fascinating story.You should follow the longing and the inspiration and pull out those paints, then write about why he inspired you so. šŸ˜‰

  3. Another great post. THIS life right here and right now is the greatest gift, if we have the courage to look it fully in the face and live it!
    On heroes, there’s a fella named Dennis I was running into on a weekly basis a while back. At 74, he is long retired from the Calgary Police Service. 44 years ago, while on the juvenile crime division, he began noticing that houses with troubled youth invariably had little in the fridge. He started a one man food bank, and now in his 43 year helps feed up to 70 families out of his garage, collecting the food from generous stores such as Safeway and Co-Op seven days a week.
    That’s the very definition of an unsung hero.

    1. Thanks!

      Yay, Dennis! Maybe courage is also compassion in ACTION. I think so often we see a need but shrink away from taking action to remedy it. To have changed (for the better) all those lives. What a fantastic man. Thank you so much for sharing his story. LOVE hearing these stories.

  4. I plan to buy some new Rapidograph pens, (which I drew with all through high school), as it was his early (1909-1912) drawings and colorful works that totally mesmerized me. I stood there memorizing WHY they were so compelling…I loved (bloggishly) that he marked the day and day of the week for most of his drawings. How incredible to wonder what Monday March 10 1909 (or whatever it was) was like and to have evidence of it before me.

    His playfulness! His wit and imagination were truly extraordinary without whimsy or cutesiness. His color sense is amazing…a pink sky with a streetscape in blue…a sky with oval orange clouds…a church outlined in purple…Sigh. Wish I could have met him.

  5. jacquelincangro

    I couldn’t agree more, Caitlin. We can all choose courage every day. I decided a few months ago to shine a spotlight on people who are courageous enough to follow their dreams and make a difference in their community. (There’s enough bad news in the world, isn’t there? So I want to share some uplifting stories.) So I started a new section of my blog called Shine. There’s the story of Lauren who had the courage to turn a terrible event in her life into a new career and the story of Patience who practices “guerrilla goodness” in her neighborhood.
    In fact, if you know of anyone who should be featured, please let me know. I’m always on the lookout for more stories.

  6. SillyWhabbit

    I like the idea of writing once a week about someone who inspires me and I find courageous. Especially now as I find myself working through some very difficult things from my past. I like the tonight of being able to balance the total pile of crap with something good.
    I find courage in people able to love someone for who they are, and not what is (or isn’t) in their their pants.
    Try watching someone go after a parent or loved one on the street for simply having a rainbow sticker on her car. Try realizing how often it happens and you don’t see it.

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