There is this scene in the movie Angus where the title character’s grandfather asks him if Superman is brave. Angus answers that of course he is, he’s Superman. He does all sorts of brave stuff and is always running around saving people and fighting crime. The grandfather tells him that Superman is not brave, because he is invulnerable to harm.
At least, this is how I remember the conversation playing out, it’s been 15 years since I saw it.
So what does it mean to have courage?
I think, like the grandfather implied, courage is simply being scared of something, and still doing what needs to be done or what you should do.
It doesn’t mean you don’t get scared, it means that you do the right thing even though you are scared.
This is much tougher than it seems. Fear is a deeply primal emotion, wired into our DNA and into our bones. It is the first line of self-preservation and one of the quickest ways to generate a response from human beings. Fear is designed to run the show, and is tasked with keeping us alive. Acting contrary to this requires a great degree of courage.
Fear affects us in so, so many ways.
A lot of what we do out of anger is actually out of fear, and so many of the terrible ways we treat people is the result of fear more than anything else. Fear can lead to avoidance when we need to be confronting something and it can cause us to try and dodge the inevitable things we need to be leaning into.
At its very core, courage is probably little more than choosing our response to a something that seems to have a standardized reaction already chosen for us.
Whether it’s running away, attacking, or simply freezing up and doing nothing, these are all responses that can happen with little or no choice from us. We have to feel fear, but we do not have to let it control us.
A mindful response to fear allows us to acknowledge it is there, to feel its effects and have compassion for ourselves, while still making the decisions that leave us in a better place, or at least minimize harm as much as possible. We can ask ourselves if the thing we fear is truly bad, or if it simply doesn’t line up with what we want. If the thing is beyond our control, what we think about it is irrelevant anyway.
Where does fear slip into your life?
What are the areas it is most likely to get control of you?
What would it look like if you chose courage instead?