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Courage and Action

Updated: Dec 2, 2021

Don’t ask what the world needs. Ask what makes you come alive and go do it. Because what the world needs is people who have come alive -Howard Thurman

Courage is not a character trait, it is not permanent. It is an open question, by which we build who we are. The truth is we can’t determine in advance when the line gets crossed: the line may move, because who knows -we adapt, we age, we freeze up, circumstances change, we get used to the unacceptable. We’ll only know what that line is, and what it connects to inside us, once we draw it. The question becomes: what if courage doesn’t come?

Can you live with this question?

Can you live with the answer?

Courage can give the illusion of regularity because it is made of a series of small individual decisions. People we call courageous grow into the confidence of their past behaviors, and it can be easy to forget the uncertainty and granularity of courage. We tend to ignore inconsistencies, small acts of cowardice and trade-offs that go unnoticed.

Even those who chose the courageous path again and again cannot but wonder if under the right circumstances, they’d behave bravely or no better than a coward with good intentions. It may seem like a useless question, but it is really the only question that defines humanity.

“Under conditions of terror most people will comply but some people will not… No more is required, and no more can reasonably be asked, for this planet to remain a place fit for human habitation.” Hannah Arendt

Acts of courage are directly related to how much we can feel without getting used to the feeling. Our society builds up cowards. We grow increasingly desensitized, sitting on our couch, behind our screens. We are craving truth, novelty, impact, emotions and we get anticlimactic breaking news, fabricated reality TV, and formulaic music. We're not sure if we're under-informed, over-informed or misinformed. We want to experience shock and awe while being shielded from it all. We carry in our pocket the immediacy of all things, the non-stop flow of stuff that makes us ultimately numb to violence, pornography and mediocrity, but also to joy, pain and wonder.

Then again, in the midst of litter, we sometimes find a glimpse of truth and emotion: rapture, revolt, sadness, anger, bliss. And suddenly it makes our errance worthwhile. So we keep troll fishing: we cast a wide net and throw back the waste. We keep looking for substance. We crave authenticity. We search for things that resonate with us, move us and surprise us: a lansdcape, a song, a story, a mountain - something both unexpected and untamed, larger than life. I don't want a photograph to be pretty. I want it to capture truth and life vividly, to steal a breath from life itself.

There are glimpses of truth out there that are so powerful that they awaken us. They make us feel alive. They are signs left by someone who felt as we did, signs randomly and magically thrown our way. In these instants of resonance, we are reminded that we are alive and not alone. We occasionally stumble upon one of these seismic moments of truth. We get punched in the guts, stung in the heart, and we unfold. We echo the universe around us, and we feel we belong right where we are.

Resonance is courage's engine; it nourishes its fire. It inspires us and forces us to follow our heart and our guts. It extracts us from our line of thoughts and surprises us with an answer to a question we didn’t ask. It delivers a message secretly folded for us. At once, we gain a new perspective. We couldn't be indifferent even if we wanted to. We are forced to acknowledge its presence. Just like courage, resonance cannot be anticipated or planned. The first one is a jump into the unknown while the second is a stumble, but both are born of violence. This violence cannot be simulated or anticipated because its expression and timing mysteriously mesh with our reaction. We take split decisions out of necessity, and we can only apprehend necessity when we’re faced with it. Even then, it probably eludes us in the obscure forces it summons.

Courageous decisions make us; we do not make courageous decisions.
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