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The courageous voice of a true champion is contagious. It can turn despair to hope, and defeat to victory. For instance, the reassuring, roaring voice of Winston Churchill in the darkest days of England during World War II is widely credited as playing a major role in changing the fortunes of the war in Europe.

“Be strong and courageous,” was the repeated charge from God to Joshua after the death of Moses. “Be strong and courageous, because you will lead these people to inherit the land I swore to their forefathers to give them” (Joshua 1:6).

The Promised Land did not fall on Joshua’s lap without a fight, without a struggle. It never does. Every promise exacts a sacrifice. Every dream demands courageous acts.

Life is a constant battle. For some, it is a fight for fiscal or physical survival. For others it is a war waged to capture the crowns of success – position, power and prestige. For a selected few, it is an uphill battle to fulfill a higher calling. However, for most people, it is a lifelong inner struggle against one’s personal demons.

Two Basic Stances in Life

In all the above instances, courage makes the difference between discouragement and determination, between surrender and success. Courage is not blind to dangers or difficulties; it is the capacity to persist in spite of fears, failures and suffering. That is why courage permeates every aspect of a worthy life.

In facing the troubles of this world, there are two basic stances in life: escapism and triumphalism. Escapism takes on many forms, ranging from denial to all kinds of distractions.

Many resort to addiction when they can no longer cope with the demands of life. However, we can never escape from life for long. Eventually, problems will catch up with us. By drowning our sorrows in alcohol and other addictive substances, we only succeed in creating more sorrows for ourselves.

Triumphalism takes a defiant, heroic stance towards life. Frankl (1987) has suggested that the defiant human spirit is a magical medicine box, because a courageous attitude of affirmation and optimism is the best medicine for body and soul, even when there are no “cures”.

The success of Anthony (Tony) Robbins and other motivational speakers lies in their ability to appeal to the defiant human spirit.

They peddle triumphalism, unashamedly, and people lap it all up, because everyone loves to be told that they can have the courage to face their own problems and change their lives.

But lasting courage requires more than just an inspirational pep talk, a “shot in the arm”; it needs to be part of our character and our general orientation towards life.

The Dark Side of Courage

There is also a dark side to courage. Many ruthless dictators and crime bosses have built their empires by being more fearless and fearsome than their rivals. Their courage is measured by the amount of innocent blood they have shed.

There are also daredevils, who risk their lives to an adrenalin rush. Unconsciously, they are driven to prove their courage and invincibility by experiencing close encounters with death, until their luck runs out.

How about the suicide-bombers? Are they courageous heroes who sacrifice their lives for justice for their own people? Or are they terrorists, murderers of innocent people?

Anatomy of Authentic Courage

But what exactly constitutes authentic courage? What distinguishes it from pseudo and evil courage? There are five common threads that characterize courage as a virtue:

  1. It is an abiding attitude — Acts of great courage, such as a fireman risking his own life to save others from a burning building, or a mother throwing herself before an attacker to save her child’s life, are not random acts. They spring from an abiding attitude of placing responsibility above personal interests.
  2. It is part of a character cluster — Courage is cultivated and developed over a period of time. It is part of a character cluster which includes endurance, patience and persistence.
  3. It is a moral choice — Like other virtues, courage involves a moral decision between expediency and principle, between self-interests and group benefits, and between folly and wisdom. In an amoral and immoral world, moral decisions always demand moral courage.
  4. It is a spiritual exercise — In the darkest hour, when everything else has failed, the defiant human spirit relies on faith in a Higher Power and in ultimate meaning.
  5. It is an act of self-transcendence — Invariably, courage as a virtue is manifested in actions of kindness that transcend personal interests and self-preservation.

Profiles of Courage

We are able to carry on in our daily struggles and persist in the never-ending battles for justice, because of the many unsung heroes cheering us on along the way. Many have paid the ultimate price. Many more are wounded. But they lift our spirit with their examples. Here are the profiles of heroic courage:

  • A victim embraces his enemy in midst of deafening shouts for blood and revenge.
  • A young man, written off as a total failure, eventually beats all odds and achieves beyond all expectations.
  • A single mother raises her children in a very bad neighborhood and teaches them to rise above the degradation around them – poverty, violence and drugs.
  • An immigrant child goes to a school each day in spite of her fear of further attack by racist bullies or her fear of failure because of language and cultural barriers.
  • A woman endures the pain of repeated surgeries and chemotherapy in order to stay alive for her children.
  • An old man suffers from chronic pain and the indignities of being frail and yet celebrates life each day.
  • A missionary doctor serves those without medical care in a foreign country and risks being murdered by terrorists.
  • A physically handicapped person overcomes tremendous odds to regain his functions and contributes to society.

The list can go on indefinitely. You could easily add to it individuals who are truly heroic. The world is a better place because of them. You too can make a difference, if you have the courage to leave your footprints on the sands of time.