Wednesday, February 1, 2017

Courage and the Coward, A Short Essay on the Difference

My teacher once said that courage is not virtue. Rather, courage is what we need to become virtuous. Without courage, we stand little chance at goodness. But even with it, there’s going to be work to do. 
What is courage and how do you find it? Ask first, what engages your heart. That's close to the literal definition, le coeur, the heart. Now what do you place in your heart? Śraddhā in Sanskrit uses the same root and literally means, "putting in your heart." This is why we translate śraddhā as "faith." Your faith is what you take to heart, what you really care about, it's your fidelity to yourself; it goes to the root of your feelings and emerges to tell you what you are prepared to do. When do we know we are acting with faith, from the place of courage rather than cowardice?
Courage, like faith, insists we pause to touch the heart of the matter and then pause again to think, to reflect, to fathom and feel more. When someone’s courage appears instantaneously, it’s not because they haven’t paused. Rather it’s because they have opened their hearts to create a place where courage can be sown and take root. It may seem counter-intuitive since acts of courage arise, seemingly out of nowhere, with a no-mind, no hesitation quality about them. But that’s because we’ve already done the work, whether we know it or not. The seeds of courage were planted before we acted and so the moment it blossoms, well, we don’t think much about the seeds or even the time they took to grow. Courage appears as a result, an outcome but it begins long before it is seen. There is no impetuous or rash courage, we have to learn about courage, even train ourselves to be courageous, because it can’t exist without seeds and roots and a process of growth. And if you will forgive my extending this laborious metaphor, as courage flowers, virtue becomes its fruit.
Most of us, I think, weren’t expecting this election’s outcome. We didn’t anticipate what we would need or what we would have to do. Now we’re seeing real actions and their dangerous implications and outcomes. We’re also seeing two different things. We’re seeing people rise up with real courage to act. Like Sally Yates. And that’s because she, like others, have sewn those seeds of courage throughout life. You value your convictions, have paused to reflect on them, and recognize when others have done as much. You have evolved feelings that have deepened and changed you because you have committed to a process of education, engagement, and contemplation. Your courage is serving you because you have taken the time to invest in yourself, which is why you invest and care about others. And your virtue, your decency and moral outrage are emergent because they come from this process that has sown courage in your heart.
Now to take this one step further, you can understand too why our situation is becoming so grave. Our President* is a coward. And unfortunately, and it is unpleasant to say as much, so are his followers. How dare we sound so arrogant, to say as much? I ask you, from everything you know about Mr. Trump and all that he has said and revealed about himself: Has he taken the time, paused to go to those deeper places in heart and mind where the seeds of courage are sown? What evidence do we have that he has committed to any process of self-learning? Courage rises up when it does because courage involves the patience, forbearance, and tolerance that nourish every other virtue.
The coward emerges as the one without empathy, without sympathy, and so lacks the prudence, the care, the compassion that informs goodness. We are in deep trouble. I think we know this from the bottom of our hearts. But I feel assured that the courageous will not relent or shrink in fear because fear is the coward’s way of telling himself he is courageous. Anger unchecked and vindictive, directed at the innocent, is the coward’s way of feeling better about himself. 
What I see in this resistance to Trump is courage determined to withstand the coward’s path to failure and people showing that their virtue, hard-earned and not always easy, is their inexhaustible resource. You may feel tired, but your courage is as inexhaustible as your heart. You will not run out of courage and all the goodness you need has long been sewn. To fight the terror and tyranny we are witness to in this global campaign to instill fear in our hearts and minds--- our truest resource is our courage.