Courage is the ability to stand one’s ground or act when danger is present.
The physiological reactions of this emotion are similar to those of fear and anger. Starting from a reaction of fear, people fight against the fear and overcome it. There is always an element of risk involved. Courage implicitly describes the mixture of these two physiologically defensive states. The physiological experience of fear and anger is a cocktail of neurotransmitters and hormones that keep the body and mind on edge. If a courageous state is prolonged, there may be many fluctuations back and forth between the two states. There may be many biological stresses going from one state to the other. Courage is an exhausting emotion.
A common misconception is that courage is a state of existing without fear. This is wrong. The reverse is true. It may be surprising but fear is needed and is the implicit ingredient for people to be courageous. There is apparently a book titled Feel the Fear and Do It Anyway. This is the essence of courage. The title could have been Be Courageous. So it’s the amount of fear people feel that determines how courageous they can be, not the lack of it. Just as King Leonidas said to his son in the opening scenes of the film 300, “My father taught me that fear is always a constant, but accepting it makes you stronger.”
Theoretically, courage can be used by a person for good or for bad. The intentions are not really the issue. Only the amount of fear overcome is a consideration. This means, at first glance, that bad people can be as courageous as good people. This brings up the other issue that is bound to courage. It’s highly associated with good deeds; it has an overall positive perception. This is because of the issue it tackles. Fear is used to intimidate and terrorise people in an attempt to get them to abandon reasonable actions. Abusiveness preys on people who are vulnerable and weak because of their inability to retaliate or inflict injury in their defence.
Terrorising and corrupting those who are perceived as weaker does not take much courage. Abuses usually occur because of a power differential, and a person who lacks an ability to retaliate is used even though it causes him or her distress. This is the essence of abusive behaviour, and it’s such deeds that place people in fear.
Courage is seen as a positive characteristic because it’s used to overcome the fear that intimidating people inflict on others. This can be on a physical level or a mental level, but there is always a mental element (a perception) involved. Courage is a personal characteristic people use to defeat bullies.
In reality, many sorts of situations occur that require courage and most of them would not be associated with a warrior’s reputation. Courage is more frequently found in everyday scenarios when people feel pushed into expressing an opinion they do not believe or saying “no” to an intimidating person. For example, after having considered the potential of retaliation and intimidation, reporting a burglary and then making a statement to the police. The reporting is a courageous act. However minor or trivial a situation seems intimidation is intimidation, and overcoming implicit fear is a courageous act. Less serious situations are where people hone their senses and where everybody develops a common sense of what is and what is not acceptable. The strength of people’s characters are tested by such experiences.
Cowardice is an extreme inability to stand firm or act in accordance with one’s principles when fear is present. Rage is sometimes experienced as the opposite extreme where recklessness occurs from an inability to act properly due to lack of control when angry or when fury is felt. Courage can be thought of as a tempered experience that is between the two extremes of cowardice and rage. When people feel courage, they acknowledge the fear they are feeling, stand firm, and continue with what they decide is best.
Many people face adversities in their everyday lives and fear the consequences of what could happen if the adversity beats them, such as not being able to pay the bills whilst having children to support or fearing misrepresentation from local malicious gossips. These social scenarios require courage to act when fear is felt. People who overcome such adversities and succeed are admired because others empathise with their ability to stand firm and continue whilst feeling the fear of their circumstances.
Intrepidness whilst acting in the face of serious physical danger is the most commonly understood concept of courage. It is right that people of great courage are recognised for the acts they do. Yet, it should also be recognised that the small increments against injustice, on a personal level, are also a part of a continual change for good. Small acts of courage are happening everywhere, in families, neighbourhoods and societies all over the world. Any fight or single step on a personal level that overcomes fear and intimidation is of value and helps save humanity from being dominated by a climate of fear.
To be fair and just requires the courage of such convictions and no less. If people do not have courage, they will not have a just society. They will live in perpetual victimhood. Courage is needed to support a standing firm posture; it’s the backbone of justice in any society.
1. The quality of facing danger.
2. Strength of mind when fear is present (backbone).
3. Spirit, liveliness, lustiness, vigour, vital force or energy.