Courage can be understood as the ability to do something that frightens you. We might also think of courage as the capacity to be strong in the face of pain or grief. Courage is not the absence of fear, but is dependent on the presence of fear. Without the presence of fear there can be no opportunity to show courage. From this perspective we can think of fear as an invitation and an opportunity to exercise courage and bravery.
Once there was a great king who asked his magician to find him a courageous man for a dangerous mission. After a long search, the magician brought four men before his master. The king, wishing to choose the most courageous of the four, asked the magician to arrange a test.
The king, the magician and the four men went to the edge of a large field, on the other side of which stood a barn. The magician gave instructions: “Each man shall have his turn. He is to walk to the barn and bring forth what is there inside.”
The first man walked across the field. Suddenly a storm came up: lightning flashed, thunder rolled, the ground shook. The man hesitated. He was frightened. As the storm increased, he fell down in fear.
The second man walked across the field. The storm grew worse, until it was a tempest. The second man passed the first man, but finally he also fell down.
The third man started with a rush, and passed the other two. But the heavens opened, the ground split, and the barn itself waved and cracked. The third man fell down.
The fourth started slowly. He felt his footing. His face was white with fear. But he was more afraid of being thought afraid than of anything else. Slowly he passed the first man, and he said, to himself, “I’m alright — so far.” Foot by foot he went on until he had passed the second man, and again he said to himself, “So far I’m alright.” Little by little he closed the gap between him and the third man, while the storm got worse. When he passed the third frightened man he said to himself, “So far I’m alright. Nothing has happened to me. I can go a little farther.” So little by little, an inch at a time now, he went towards the barn. He got there at last, and just before he touched the latch he said, “So far I’m alright. I can go a little farther.” Then he put his hand on the latch.
Instantly the storm ceased, the ground was steady, and the sun shone. The man was astonished. From inside the barn came a munching sound. For a moment he thought it might be a trick. Then he thought, “I’m still alright,” and opened the door. Inside he found a white horse eating oats. Nearby was a suit of white armour. The man put it on, saddled the horse, rode out to the king and the magician, and said, “I am ready, Sire.”
“How do you feel?” asked the king.
“I’m alright so far,” the man said.
We can see from the story that courage is not about jumping in the deep end when you can’t swim. It is about taking small steps. We move slowly towards a challenge, building our skills and capacities as we go. It is only through moving towards fear that we build our capacity for courage.
Recall a time when you practiced courage. How would you describe the experience?
Who do you know who demonstrates courage regularly? What does this look like?
How might you practice courage more in your life? How might you build your capacity for courage?
Read a story or watch a film about someone who shows a lot of courage. You could also research a person from history who showed a lot of courage, like Martin Luther King or Harriet Tubman. Imagine ‘walking in their shoes’. See if you can ‘draw on’ their example to be more courageous in your own life.