Courage is one of the most commonly employed and least understood terms in common usage in the English language
It is often thought that courage stems from a lack of fear. The military man who storms the enemy stronghold or leaps to the defense of his comrades is said to be courageous. His actions are believed to come from his fearlessness or his lack of self regard. We marvel at the person who puts some goal other than self preservation as their priority.
You often hear of people who, when confronted with threatening circumstances, act to overcome their adversary. When interviewed later, they sometimes respond to the question "Were you afraid?" in the negative. They might say "I didn't think of being afraid", or "I didn't have time to be afraid."
I submit that the person who, when threatened by injury to self or to their dear ones, threatened by harm to their country, or other dire emergency who has no fear is either a fool or a liar.
Courage is the ability to act in spite of fear, to exercise by an act of the will the ability to overcome that fear and do that which must be done.
Fear stems from the ability to imagine the future. One may fear almost anything because they can envision the negative consequences that could occur. People may fear earthquake, fire, flood, tornado, or hurricane. They know that their entire world can be destroyed in a few minutes, and indeed even lose their lives or the lives of their loved ones.
People fear the loss of a relationship, whether to parent, child, or other person. They see their life going on without that other person in it, and the prospect is not a happy one. Songs about heartbreak abound and there is always a market for them because it is part of the human condition. The broken heart when we lose our first love relationship is familiar to most people. As author and psychologist Dr. James Dobson has said "It may have only been puppy love, but it still hurt the puppy."
When a fireman suits up and prepares to go into that burning building he is aware of what could happen and feels a thrill of fear, perhaps mixed with excitement. He (or she) may have the job because they exist for that excitement, that contest of skill and training against the deadly environment of a fire.
The policeman, when he dons the uniform and buckles on his gun belt, knows that before his shift is over he may be confronted by deadly force, yet he does the job every day.
The soldier does his duty, though the modern battlefield has a hundred horrible ways in which to die. They do it for duty, pride, love of country, or one of many other reasons.
Every one of the people mentioned above knows the feel of fear. People in much more prosaic positions also know that feeling. Everyone fears something. They may fear the IRS, being afraid of getting that letter in the mailbox inviting them to their tax audit. An elderly person may fear the fact that their health is failing, their body simply refusing to continue. A mother or father may fear the loss of a job, be suddenly cast into the role of not being able to meet the needs of their family.
Fear comes in many guises and no one is immune from its grip. We arise every day and continue to try our best though we know in the end time will be the victor. Sometimes we do what we must because, ultimately, there is no viable alternative except abject surrender. We try again and yet again though we see little progress, never get a chance at grabbing life's golden ring. That effort, that refusal to give up, that determined struggle in the face of every obstacle may be the ultimate courage. No one sings the praises of the man or the woman who raises their family, who stays with their partner through thick and thin, who does that which is right up until the inevitable end. These quiet and mighty people, the ones who never make the headlines or the evening news, are the true heroes among us. Their display of quiet courage should both humble and inspire every one of us.
Terms which denote gender as male are not meant to be sexist but are rather terms commonly used. The author is quite aware that fire personnel, police, and military are made up of both sexes. No discrimination was intended or promoted in the writing of this essay.