Monday, June 2, 2008

More Courage With Each Breath

I have discovered, over the past year or so of blogging, that it takes me great courage to post some of my comments in these dialogues. There is something about putting yourself out there, your ideas and beliefs, that sometimes takes an act of courage. This begs the question, what is courage? Why do we need it? How do we find it?

Sean Hannah and colleagues (Hannah, Sweeney & Lester, 2007) from the United States Military Academy, writing in The Journal of Positive Psychology, provide a new model of courage. In it they set out a web of interrelated factors thought to feed into the subjective experience of courage.

Broadly, they suggest that levels of courage are influenced by character traits, particular states of mind and the values, beliefs and social forces acting on a person. Being courageous, then, is all about having options, and in order to generate those options you need to be creative.

There are those with very personal ideas of courage like Winston Churchill: "Courage is going from failure to failure without losing enthusiasm." Or W. Clement Stone: "Have the courage to say no. Have the courage to face the truth. Do the right thing because it is right. These are the magic keys to living your life with integrity." Or Maya Angelou: "Courage is the most important of all the virtues, because without courage you can't practice any other virtue consistently. You can practice any virtue erratically, but nothing consistently without courage."

Throughout his political career, President John F. Kennedy inspired people to follow their conscience and to work for the benefit of their communities, their country, and their world. He believed that each person can make a difference, and that everyone should try.

"In whatever arena of life one may meet the challenge of courage, whatever may be the sacrifices he faces if he follows his conscience, the loss of his friends, his fortune, his contentment, even the esteem of his fellow men, each man must decide for himself the course he will follow. The stories of past courage can define that ingredient they can teach, they can offer hope, they can provide inspiration. But they cannot supply courage itself. For this each man must look into his own soul." - John F. Kennedy, Profiles in Courage

What do YOU think?


Tim said...

A favorite speech on courage:

Cowardly Lion: Courage! What makes a king out of a slave? Courage! What makes the flag on the mast to wave? Courage! What makes the elephant charge his tusk in the misty mist, or the dusky dusk? What makes the muskrat guard his musk? Courage! What makes the sphinx the seventh wonder? Courage! What makes the dawn come up like thunder? Courage! What makes the Hottentot so hot? What puts the "ape" in apricot? What have they got that I ain't got?

Dorothy, Scarecrow, Tin Woodsman: Courage!

Cowardly Lion: You can say that again! Huh?

Lee said...

Heh the easy answer of course is courage is doing that which scares you.

Lonlaz said...

At the moment of execution the feeling of courage is indistinguishable from voluntary stupidity.

Trevor said...

The seed cannot know what is going to happen, the seed has never known the flower. And the seed cannot even believe that he has the potentiality to become a beautiful flower. Long is the journey, and it is always safer not to go on that journey because unknown is the path, nothing is guaranteed.

Nothing can be guaranteed. Thousand and one are the hazards of the journey, many are the pitfalls - and the seed is secure, hidden inside a hard core. But the seed tries, it makes an effort; it drops the hard shell which is its security, it starts moving. Immediately the fight starts: the struggle with the soil, with the stones, with the rocks. And the seed was very hard and the sprout will be very, very soft and dangers will be many.

There was no danger for the seed, the seed could have survived for millennia, but for the sprout many are the dangers. But the sprout starts towards the unknown, towards the sun, towards the source of light, not knowing where, not knowing why. Great is the cross to be carried, but a dream possesses the seed and the seed moves.

The same is the path for man. It is arduous. Much courage will be needed.


When we are faced with a very difficult situation we have a choice: we can either be resentful, and try to find somebody or something to blame for the hardships, or we can face the challenge and grow.

The flower shows us the way, as its passion for life leads it out of the darkness and into the light. There is no point fighting against the challenges of life, or trying to avoid or deny them. They are there, and if the seed is to become the flower we must go through them. Be courageous enough to grow into the flower you are meant to be.

Lonlaz said...

I suppose we may have different definitions of courage. Mine is a
very personal one. It is when I am either paralyzed with fear
(physically or emotionally) or find it easier to turn away from
something than face it, and I make a decision to face fear and not
think of the consequences. Courage is never a good feeling at the

I never feel comfortable, though, if I continually make comfortable

John said...

I think you can't define Courage, because, like other virtues, it's a Platonic Form.

According to the Platonic model, the essence of such a virtue can be grasped or apprehended directly -- in a kind of Aha! experience -- but not verbally defined. However, logical analysis and dialectic may serve to focus the mind sufficiently for this Aha! experience to occur.

In any case, Plato's dialogue Laches has as its subject Courage.

John Uebersax

Neil said...

My favourite story on courage comes from Anthony Flew. Answering the question 'what is courage' in an undergraduate paper, he wrote only the words 'this is'. He pulled a first.

Some years after this I was teaching in Sheffield. We had set a dreadful question on tomatoes and how to sell them to maximise profit. Linear programmes were all the rage and we expected answers using them. It was a Masters course and all our students except one got the answer wrong. He produced a scrappy bit of paper with a systems diagramme - when applied to the tomatoes this produced the correct answer. All the other students had produced linear programmes that didn't quite work, yet the only student my colleagues wanted to fail was the one with the right answer, which was much cleverer than
any of ours. I gave him a distinction - the only courage needed being prepared to put up with 2 hours of dull argument at the exam board, which duly failed him. He won on appeal.

Courage is essentially ethical and we are struggling to be ethical these days. I think Molly points to this in stating some fear is involved even in posting to a group like this. There are some people who would think I am actually trying to construct my anti-antisocial Dalek of other posts, or really advocate shooting teenagers. We need more courage in thought and thought experiments. We are only just grasping we have a over-populated world and a godforsaken crisis on our hands.

Molly Brogan said...

It seems that Plato would agree with Neil - here is the dialogue that John referenced:

Laches, also known as Courage, is a Socratic dialogue written by Plato, and concerns the topic of courage. Lysimachus, son of Aristides, and Melesias, son of Thucydides (not the historian Thucydides), request advice from Laches and Nicias on whether or not they should have their sons (who are named after their famous grandfathers) trained to fight in armor. After each gives their opinion, one for and one against, they seek Socrates for council. Instead of answering the question, Socrates questions what the initial purpose of the training is meant to instill in the children. Once they determine that the purpose is to instill virtue, and more specifically courage, Socrates discusses with Laches and Nicias what exactly courage is. The bulk of the dialogue is then the three men (Laches, Nicias and Socrates) debating various definitions of courage.

Laches offers an offhand opinion that courage is "a certain perseverance of the soul". However, Socrates immediately challenges this idea by arguing that there are many instances in battle when the prudent thing to do is to withdraw or flee. Since courage is a virtue, Socrates argues, it cannot contradict prudence, and therefore the idea that courage always demands perseverance must be false. Laches is forced to admit this contradiction and is subsequently silenced by Socrates' critique.

Nicias then offers another definition, this time from a more philosophical angle. He suggests that courage is "knowledge of future good and evil". Socrates pursues two lines of argument in order to contradict this definition. Firstly, he argues that to know all good and evil means to possess all virtue. Secondly, he argues that in order to fully understand future good and evil, one must also understand past and present good and evil. Socrates is able to convince Nicias that these two lines of argument are true. He then asserts that Nicias' definition actually amounts to a definition of all virtue (since it implies knowledge of all good and evil) and therefore, since courage is in fact only a part of virtue, a contradiction arises and the definition must be false. And so, in the end, Socrates finds both his companions' theories to be unsatisfactory, and the dialogue ends in "aporia", or confusion.

There are many different interpretations as to why the the dialogue ends in aporia. Certain commentators, such as Iain Lane, view the Socratic method of elenchus as an end in itself; that debate is the central premise and function of the dialogue. Others, such as Gregory Vlastos, see the dialogue ending because of the specific deficiencies of the characters' definitions.

Neil said...

There is much to be said for dialogue as an end in itself - for we need to be content with ideas at times and with philosophy as a way of life. In science we do tend to have deciding observations - experiments as occasions of experience and something of a dedication in demonstrating our stories (Peter Medawar). I believe we need more courage in grasping facts and accepting that there are brutal realities - the end of this is to produce more comfort as a community - yet here the argument requires diversity in thinking at critical levels and in genuine imagination - thinking that does not exclude those who cannot join in (which Plato does routinely). Courage in genuine education would help - but an education not diluted to least common denominator 'edutainment', courage in genuine possibilities of participation. You have put this very well somewhere in these threads Molly - my feeling is that this courage is linked to readdressing control issues at very basic levels.

Molly Brogan said...

I can certainly feel the truth here, Neil. It would explain the connection of fear to courage. How many of us feel joy, or anything other than fear when faced with a loss of control? And yet control is the ultimate illusion, isn't it? Once it is surrendered, and true sovereignty honored, the object of desired control returns to us willingly, as our "daily bread." With it, comes joy. The divine

Neil said...

I still sort of believe in control - but as control not as something horrible that becomes the end in itself.

Molly Brogan said...

The control button on the keyboard has all kinds of beneficial functions! And given the choice on whether to spend time with a child who is calm and respectful, or one that is "out of control," I would certainly choose the more pleasant child - unless of course, the out of control child was my own (which has certainly happened,) and then I would always choose my child. Thatmight require (and did) some
courage! "Control" of wild, discourteous, disrespectful behavior is important to community. Control of our internal natures can be construed as a higher organization and important to living - unless we are clinging to dysfunction and cannot see it or will not release it.

I don't think anyone sees the fool that accepts everything that comes his way with a stupid grin as a desirable state of being. And yet, there is that point where acceptance and surrender is required of us, even though our self will is screaming - no! I want it this way! This control is always difficult to spot and release.

Where we are in the moment can also be involved. Are our past scripts providing a thousand bars of our own design? Can we let go of the past, what we have known, and move forward anew in the moment? Can we control what happens next? Can we stop our urge to focus on how we
want things to be, and find the harmony in what is? I think that if we can, our desires are naturally fulfilled, but not always in the exact way we conceived. Divine possibility finds us. Can we feel the joy in that? Or is our sense of control threatened?

All this to say that I think you have something here, Neil. When control relates to a sense of decorum, or ethics or moral code that allows individual integrity and natural social order - all good! When control inspires defiance, self will and conflict - not so good.
Knowing the difference - priceless.

Editor at said...

I think you really hit the nail on the head in this blog entry. Isn't so much of putting yourself out there made up of faith in yourself? I don't think there is any substitute for that.

Vamadevananda said...

I agree with you, Neil !

I still feel Gandhi should have entered the governance arena and
actually attempted to deliver the aims of the vision he had for the
people and the world he spoke for through out his life. Good people
should not baulk at taking on the reigns of control over power.

Molly, it is rebellion that is priceless. And it spells conflict. My life is proof of it. Life settles down but around values you hold dear. And that means everything. Because those values are universal.

Even today, I have chosen to enter into conflict with the Director of
the company I am working for, because he expects my yes to a matter that does not spell good for the organisation.

Ultimately, rebellion is always against ignorance ! In that respect I admire Chaz' spirit. Only, if it were sans anger and bitterness, and not be without compassion and love for the other., to be more effective.

Molly Brogan said...

Well, I think that there is rebellion against wisdom also, but it is rebellion none the less. In the context of the previous discussion, rebellion can occur without defiance, self will (for the greater good) or even conflict. But we do learn either way.

Neil said...

The ways we suppress each other in politesse and etiquette are really quite crude, probably formed in childhood. I think breakfast tv is full of the stuff - evidence gets nowhere because of these soppy (yet dangerous) 'soft skills' of presentation - this perhaps leads some to try to extirpate them rather than explore a more complex form which could raise consciousness more generally rather than use a pretence of rationality or objectivity as yet another soppy dodge by cold people. Molly is leading us up the garden path - but to experience what is there, not to play with the fairies or indulge a form of temporary consensual bliss nodding donkeys might represent. Wisdom might well lie on this path, where art, science and morals could have some sense of unity even if this remains ineffable.

We generally use 'being led up the garden path' as a pejorative. I'd let this linger in what I was really trying to say about Molly - because I mean some kind of opposite that allows genuine demonstration and never involves bended knees - a bit like my aversion to people hearing Neil as 'kneel'. A lot of this is something I'd call avoiding rush to disagreement, but it extends very much into feeling comfortable with others holding at least some dissimilar views and perhaps relishing that. Nice stuff to feel even if it's difficult to
say. It can't be inter-gender specific as I feel much the same in a different way about what Orn says. I hate cliques so suggest we disband immediately!

Slip said...

I understand putting oneself out there in the blog world exposing ones mind takes courage. I don't necessarily feel courageous in writing this but I see courage having many facets. I think it takes courage to be Robin Williams on Broadway. Courage for a medical professional to perform a delicate operation that may result in failure. Is courage inherently within or is it something that is instilled within us by societal norms; a bi-product of our nurtured environment. Conversely is not having courage at a given moment considered cowardice or can one simply choose not be courageous? Perhaps I don't want to run into a burning building to save an old lady. Is that cowardice or the act of being aware of the consequences and making a pragmatic decision based upon that awareness? Courage is separate from heroism as sometimes it takes courage to pick oneself up, to stand up for ones beliefs or simply to refrain from taking any action; the courage to suppress emotion.
It takes courage to not be courageous.

Molly Brogan said...

I think that courage is the step you take, when the next step is either feared or unknown, but you take it anyway. A step into the unknown is the proverbial leap of faith. Would choosing not to act in a way that would be considered courageous by others - an act of courage? Ghandi might think so, always choosing non violence. He was the hero of many.

Your post has also made me wonder - is the courage to suppress emotion the same as the courage to express emotion? It may take courage to be or not to be courageous...

Very nice, Slip. Thanks.

Neil said...

I have suspected nothings since I discovered vacuums are only empty on average, being actually full of more or less cancelling out stuff. There is a form of Po that kind of suits Gabby's empty and leaves us full of query.

Molly Brogan said...

Do you mean po as in the abbreviation for chamber pot - or Poe as in Edgar Allen. Poe's never ending dark night of the soul was full of himself, and as such, some of the deepest recesses of all of us. This is not emptiness. There is the notion of the void. And we are back to being and nothingness, I think we know where all stand on that idea. But if we do believe there is nothingness, and courageously step into it, as Poe stepped into in the Pit and the Pendulum...

"amid earnest struggles to regather some token of the state of seeming nothingness into which my soul had lapsed, there have been moments when I have dreamed of success; there have been brief, very brief periods when I have conjured up remembrances which the lucid reason of a later epoch assures me could have had reference only to that condition of seeming unconsciousness. These shadows of memory tell, indistinctly, of tall figures that lifted and bore me in silence down -- down -- still down -- till a hideous dizziness oppressed me at the mere idea of the interminableness of the descent. They tell also of a vague horror at my heart, on account of that heart's unnatural stillness. Then comes a sense of sudden motionlessness throughout all things; as if those who bore me (a ghastly train!) had outrun, in their descent, the limits of the limitless, and paused from the wearisomeness of their toil. After this I call to mind flatness and dampness; and then all is madness -- the madness of a memory which busies itself among forbidden things."

Pat said...

But what about the Telly-Tubby, Po? Or Master Po from 'Kung Fu'? E.A. Poe is one of my favourite writers. Perhaps that's one reason why I keep a raven's skull near the head of my bed. Although he doesn't speak, I can't say he is completely ineffective. One of these days, I'd love to have a pet raven. Without a doubt, they're my favourite bird. But I'm partial to all corvids.

Molly Brogan said...

The Raven is one of my favorite works by Poe, and I can certainly understand his attraction to this majestic bird. Poe did one of the best jobs of exploring depression and giving it a thrilling beauty for us. I think we like this because we have all had those moments. It takes a great deal of courage to explore them. My opinion is that the moments (weeks, months, years) of depression that we have can also be times that we are living more soul based, more from our hearts than minds. Some of the most creative and expressive people I know have made an art of depression.

Pat said...

Indeed. I've certainly spent a fair few months there. But, now that my chips are far more down than they ever have been, I find it far less depressing than I thought I would. Although I DO like 'The Raven', my favourite of Poe's is "The Tell-Tale Heart". It REALLY gets into the mind of a guilt-ridden killer. And, of course, there's 'The Cask of Amontillado'. There's nothing like inviting over an old friend/enemy specifically to get him drunk enough that you can chain him to a wall and brick him in. And, I think after dinner tonight, I shall enjoy a glass or two of sherry. ;-)

Ornamentalmind said...

While I've read most of Poe, The Gold Bug being one of the first books I read and most likely was what propelled me into a voracious appetite for solving puzzles, I find Kafka to be in many ways darker. I found "In The Penal Colony" most satisfying when it comes to dealing with transformation, even more so than "The Metamorphosis". This said, Molly's suggestion that looking death in the face (depression/dark night of the soul etc.) "...can also be times that we are living more soul based, more from our hearts than minds..." does point to something I find innately true. The human psyche seems to need to transcend the subjective levels of consciousness, up through the notion of ego death, before any of the more divine levels are clearly apprehended.

Molly Brogan said...

This may be what is walled up. Enjoy the sherry! We all die a little each day, one way or another.

Francis said...

While it is true that we can learn from depression - as we can learn from many kinds of suffering - it is, in my personal experience, something very painful and can be life-threatening. The German poet Gottfried Benn (1886-1956) has a very good description of the sense of pointless, exhausted tedium which is so characteristic of depression (the translation is mine):

Melancholie (Auszug, 2. Strophe)

Was ist der Mensch – die Nacht vielleicht geschlafen, doch vom Rasieren wieder schon so müd, noch eh ihn Post und Telefone trafen, ist die Substanz schon leer und ausgeglüht, ein höheres, ein allgemeines Wirken, von dem man hört und manches Mal auch ahnt, versagt sich vielen leiblichen Bezirken, verfehlte Kräfte, tragisch angebahnt: Man sage nicht, der Geist kann es erreichen, er gibt nur manchmal kurzbelichtet Zeichen.

Melancholia (Extract, Verse 2)

What is man – maybe he slept last night, But the effort of shaving has left him so tired, That, before the post arrived, or the first ringing of the phone, His substance is already empty and burnt out, Energy of a better, more general kind, Of which you’ve heard, and sometimes even sensed, Lets you down in so many physical areas, Futile power, tragically applied: You wouldn’t say, the spirit can achieve this, There are only occasional, briefly flashing glimpses.

Molly Brogan said...

Ah - is the suffering caused by the ego's battle to suppress, look away or defy what the soul is calling us to? I think suffering in general is the ego dramatizing the pain of life. We all have moments
of pain. Some of us define ourselves by our pain and thus, create suffering so that we can hold onto it longer. But the pain itself will come and go with the transformation is we allow. This takes real courage. Can we have transformation without pain? I think so. But we have to let go of some deeply entrenched beliefs about pain and the nature of transformation for that to occur. If we look at the life of Christ it seems incredibly painful, especially the passion. I often wonder if he experienced it like the rest of us humans do, or if he had already transcended the experience of physical pain as we know it.

Neil said...

I meant Po as in Po - from an idea of a new conjunction and the daft work of some guy I worked with in Malta whose name I have forgotten. Thinking hats, action shoes, lateral thinking - ah - Eduard de Bono. As Gabby was involved I meant no meaning at all and had already transcended to thought of the German-speaking Belgian woman I met at a Beethoven concert in Portugal. We can learn from anything, and we meeting again in Antwerp - so she must have learned nothing!

ornamentalmind said...

I thought the subject here had metamorphosed into the suffering of the soul; thus, to address physical pain, unless clearly used as an analogy, is to me a misleading conflation. This aside for now, 'we' feel pain (suffering) in this context as our beliefs melt away and we are thus less anesthetized by the presence of fewer and fewer veils between essence and reality as it is. This is not to suggest that 'reality' is inherently painful. It is that there are fewer and fewer distractions from the last few gasps of the death of ego, which of course, does not inherently exist. A very tenacious nonexistence indeed! Within the cosmology that appears to me, we all must travel through this level of the 'dark night of the soul' to know it and get to those levels of transcendence beyond it. Buddhist and other philosophies address this notion of grasping/ ignorance quite well too.

Molly Brogan said...

Well, I'm not sure the soul can suffer. I think it is an emotion caused when the ego needs to make pain part of the identity, hold on to it and dramatize it. If the soul is trying to get the attention by way of intuition, dream or other means, and the ego is resistant, depression can occur. This is not always a bad thing. It gives us time to slow down, think, focus attention away from most conscious
concerns. It takes courage.

I did not mean to overlook your wonderful description of dark night of the soul, Orn. Indeed, I agree that part of the process is to get through the layers of ego "suffering" that we define ourselves with and back to our essential being. Thanks for this.

Neil said...

We had a young cop round a couple of days back. He was great and I was laughing when he left. He asked why - and I said because he'd done such a great job. He said something about 'normal service' - but on recent performance in GMP he was definitely abnormal. He went on to probe a bit about why I was laughing - and I explained it was because sometimes things get black enough for any decent behaviour to cheer you up. Over a couple of beers the following day he explained why he knew what I meant - some stuff that would fit well with what Molly and Orn are saying in rather different ways - his own 'dark night'. He also blabbed on the evil inspector I have so much trouble with. There is only evidence, everything else is piss and wind - so the old detective in me would say, thinking back to 'befriend and exploit classes'. We might tell ourselves that truth is what we are after in self- awareness and I have met many who have put integrity at the centre of research methods. They cannot explain why so much research appears to have no integrity at all, other than to the bemused idiots who produce it. We often make statements about integrity that assume it is being achieved in wide context, when the evidence shows it is not. How might we bring this together in terms of that bit of us that wants to believe it is doing right?

Molly Brogan said...

Well, it seems to me that the part of us that needs to be right (ego) is included in, but not all of the part of us that needs to be true (being.) What is right and what is true is sometimes in conflict, if the ego is holding on to a self interest that is not in harmony with the bigger picture. If you can let go of the need to be right, you can often be true to yourself (being), and thus, the world around you.

Pat said...

Good question. The 'integrity' issue is probably the main reason that I haven't approached any string theorists yet about my theory. I don't trust that they wouldn't write it up and lay claim to it themselves. Although I have plenty of evidence here that I had the idea first, I don't have the finances to prove it in a court battle. I know there's a lot of competition in the sciences about being the first to lay claim to things and I just don't trust the majority. I think what I need to do is scope out a couple and see if I can find one with integrity. Alternatively, I've thought about approaching Michio Kaku, as he 'seems' to have integrity. As string theory is pretty unprovable (at the moment) anyway, to have an explanation for quantum entanglement would be pretty seductive to those with less integrity, I think.