Redefining Courage

537416_4625798797934_759538850_nWhat is courage?

Samuel James asked that important question and gave some thought-provoking answers in a recent article Character and Courage.  James begins by pointing out the courage of main characters in Stephen Spielberg movies, including his most recent “Bridge of Spies” that gave an idea for the article.

Courageous people are obviously of evergreen interest to novelists and filmmakers, but one thing that sets Spielberg’s heroes apart is the courage of their self-mastery. Spielberg’s courageous characters are not merely brave in the culturally convenient senses of the word. They are not brave in their self-actualization; they are brave in their self-sacrifice. There is a tremendous difference.

This self-sacrificing courage is very different from what we call courage today as he explains.

my guess is that, in a culture of pure self-actualization and assertion of “my story,” all of us simply believe that we are courageous by default. A generation’s worth of agonized psychological health campaigns and “self-esteem” parenting literature have made all of us deeply suspicious that we are being very courageous and very brave merely by getting out of the bed in the morning.

This courage by default has created a new definition for being courageous which James illustrates using a popular Katy Perry song roar

Now I’m floating like a butterfly
Stinging like a bee I earned my stripes
I went from zero, to my own hero

The key phrase there is “my own hero.” Not YOUR hero. Not THEIR hero. MY own hero. Perry’s song is about freeing oneself from the life of what Ayn Rand called “second-handers,” people whose sense of identity consists in being approved and admired so much so that they forget to love anything else

In other words courage in our culture is “being yourself.”  While being an individual does take self-confidence Samuel James is right to wonder if that’s what courage is really all about.

But does being “my own hero” also mean, as the chorus sings, “I am a champion”? Is asserting oneself as an individual really the deepest and most genuine form of courage? If it is, then I’m afraid men like James Donovan (character in bridge of spies movie) and Abraham Lincoln were deeply self-deceived. Those men believed the way they could courageous was not by asserting their own personal championhood, or becoming “their own hero” to the frustrated designs of those around them. Rather, people like Lincoln and Donovan were willing to lay down their lives for the cause of something outside them, for something that had lasted and would last well beyond their lives and their fortunes

The point James makes very well in his article is this.  We have forgotten what courage is.

Courage isn’t demanding your rights

standing up for something that you think you deserve

Or being a unique individual

Again courage is involved in all of those things.  But true courage is about standing up and giving themselves over for defense of the marginalized, and the Gospel of Christ.

Articles Cited:  http://samueldjames.net/2015/10/28/character-and-courage/

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