COURAGE (Part two)

Sir Godfrey Gregg D.Div

It was one key to the kind of courage displayed by those who silently suffered abuse when they joined ranks with Gandhi and Martin Luther King, Jr., in acts of nonviolent protest directed at rousing the public conscience against injustice. You will remember E T. Joshua, of St. Vincent and the Grenadines, Bustamante of Jamacia, Jagan of Guyana and Clement Payne of Barbados.

Another key to their success, of course, was the reason: practical reason delivered with the kind of eloquence that is informed by a real command of one’s cultural heritage and that steals the will to take intelligent action.

The mere inclination to do the right thing is not in itself enough. We have to know what the right thing to do is. We need wisdom — often the wisdom of a wise leader — to give our courage determinate form, to give it intelligent direction. And we need the will, the motivating power that inspiring leaders can sometimes help us discover within ourselves even when we are unable to find it readily on our own. If Aristotle is right, then courage is a settled disposition to feel appropriate degrees of fear and confidence in challenging situations (what is “appropriate” varying a good deal with the particular circumstances).

It is also a settled disposition to stand one’s ground, to advance or to retreat as wisdom dictates. Before such dispositions become settled, however, they need to be established in the first place. And that means practice, which in turn means facing fears and taking stands in advance of any settled disposition to do so: acting bravely when we don’t really feel brave.

Fear of the dark is almost universal among young children, and it provides relatively safe opportunities for first lessons in courage. In families, older siblings are greatly assisted in cultivating their own dispositions in this respect by putting up a brave front before their younger brothers or sisters. “You see? There’s really nothing to be afraid of.”

This is excellent practice and a fine place to begin. Occasions for being brave on behalf of others — for standing by them in challenging circumstances — are occasions for becoming brave ourselves; that is, for learning how to handle our own confidence and fear, for figuring out the right thing to do, and for mustering the will to do it.

Author: Godfrey Gregg