Becoming Courageous

Becoming CourageousCourage is not something we hear much about. And that is a shame.

The world by and large, and America in particular, seems to have lost touch with the concept of courage. In its place, we have substituted heroism. Even more, we have become worshippers of heroism. Young people worship fictional heroes from Superman to Spiderman. We seldom hear those names spoken by children without special emphasis, as in: SPIDERMAN!

It’s fair to say that adults like heroes too – real life heroes, like wounded warriors who have sacrificed physical and mental wholeness and even life itself for duty, honor and country. But isn’t it ironic that the men we called heroes usually do not think of themselves that way. They often remark that they are not heroes, but rather, just ordinary people who did what anyone else would do.

May I submit to you that they are more correct than we are? And may I further submit that, if we saw them as they see themselves, we would not fall into the trap of hero worship.

I remember Neil Armstrong for two reasons. First, and most obvious, for being the first man to walk on the surface of the moon. Second, and more important, for shunning the hero worship that was heaped upon him for the rest of his life. He knew that he was not a hero and certainly not the hero we wanted him to be. But he was courageous. Just like most of those men who we try to make into heroes.

Courage happens when ordinary people rise above their fears.

It took courage to sit on top of a Saturn V rocket and hurtle through space with two other men in a 10’ 7” x 12’ 10” capsule. It took courage to descend to the surface of the moon, never really knowing if they would make it back. Armstrong and the others would have been fools if they were not afraid. But they became courageous when they determined to overcome their fears, regardless of the outcome.

Courage happens when ordinary people rise above their fears to protect and preserve others who can’t.

This is why veterans of our armed forces do not consider themselves heroes. All they did was to rise above their fears to protect and preserve others who can’t. Only a person with delusions of grandeur would not be afraid of something when they are in harm’s way. That’s how super heroes are portrayed, and that’s why there are no real heroes. But there are real men and women of courage – men and woman who have learned to rise above their fears, especially when doing so will protect and preserve others can’t, whether the “can’t” means the inability to protect and preserve themselves or if it means the inability to rise above their own fears.

Life is hard. Sometimes it is frightening. Nearly everyone has to deal with the fear of failure, but only those who are willing to face that fear and rise above it ever succeed. It takes courage to accept the risks and the challenges of life and to exercise a willingness to risk everything for the sake of others. Courage may be needed at home or on the job just as much as it might be needed on a battlefield. It all depends upon the fear.

I have a fear of heights, so it took a large dose of courage for me to ride in a trolley across the bridge at Royal Gorge near Canon City, CO, nearly 1,000 feet above the Arkansas River. My feeling of relief when I reach the other side was severely tempered when I realized that I had to make the return trip. In my exhilaration at making it safely across the 1,270 wooden planks, I had said, “I will never ride across that bridge again.” So, I walked back, facing renewed fear every time my foot stepped over a gap to the next plank.

I still have a fear of heights, but on that day, on that bridge I found the courage I needed to make it. I doubt that what I did actually benefitted anyone else, but it remains one of my most vivid memories of courage in the face of fear.

Fear will stop you if you let it. You don’t need to be a super hero. All you need is the courage to rise above your fear.

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