Dorothy: Your Majesty, if you were king, you wouldn’t be afraid of anything?
Cowardly Lion: Not nobody! Not nohow!
Tin Woodsman: Not even a rhinoceros?
Cowardly Lion: Imposerous!
Dorothy: How about a hippopotamus?
Cowardly Lion: Why, I’d thrash him from top to bottomus!
Dorothy: Supposing you met an elephant?
Cowardly Lion: I’d wrap him up in cellophant!
Scarecrow: What if it were a brontosaurus?
Cowardly Lion: I’d show him who was king of the forest!
From the time I was a little boy until well into adulthood, I thought I had a pretty clear and accurate understanding of what COURAGE looked like. It was a fireman racing into a burning building – in seeming reckless disregard of his personal safety – fixated on saving the life of a child. It was a soldier reflexively making the ultimate sacrifice by throwing his body on a hand-grenade to shield the other members of his platoon from certain death. It was a Secret Service agent stepping in front of a would-be assassin’s bullet to spare the life of the President. In short, to me, COURAGE was an act of bravery tied to saving the life of another. And, of course, I was partially correct: Each of the foregoing indisputably is an act of COURAGE.
But the older I get the clearer it becomes that my childhood view of COURAGE is much too narrow. Instead, my journey has led me to embrace a slightly different, more expansive definition of COURAGE, one that is plainly broad enough to encompass the more “traditional” acts that all of us rightfully associate with the word, but, at the same time, recognizes as equally COURAGEOUS the often more subtle, sometimes almost imperceptible, and generally far less public choices that many bravely make each day not for the sake of saving someone else’s life, but in deciding to continue to fight in the face of what, in the moment, seem to them like insurmountable odds and, in the process, save their own lives.
I found that definition, oddly enough, in the words of beatnik writer, James Neil Hollingworth (1933-1996), who, writing under the pen name Ambrose Redmoon, once described courage “[not as] the absence of fear, but rather [as a] judgment that something else is more important than fear!” Since doing so, I’ve become much more attentive to manifestations of COURAGE in all of its forms, large and small, whether they occur on the battlefield or the playing field, in the classroom or the boardroom, in the public spotlight or, in the case of a disordered eater, hunched over a toilet seat with a split second decision to make, in the privacy of a bathroom – and the critically of recognizing and appropriately acknowledging that COURAGEOUSNESS.
In my mind, it is only in doing so that those who truly are COURAGEOUS, albeit in a far less public and spectacular fashion, will become more fully aware of their capacity to confront and overcome fear and, in the process, create a space and an opportunity for the seed of hope to take root and flourish. Over the next few days, I thought I’d highlight a few individuals whose “everyday” acts of COURAGE have touched me in the hope that their stories will enable other to recognize that they too are (or, at critical turning points in their lives, were) similarly COURAGEOUS, while others will be inspired to embrace their own COURAGEOUSNESS when the need for it arises!