I don’t understand courage. It’s certainly not a quality that comes naturally or easily to me. I spent many of my school days trying to avoid the tough kids rather than face or confront them. It felt safer that way, even it if did mean walking home the long way round or trying hard to look inconspicuous. In later years, I took up karate to improve my confidence but even that felt like a show, a façade to hide my inner fears.
My lack of courage reached an all time low when working in a Palestinian hospital on the West Bank. An Israeli jet flew past at speed, causing a sonic boom that shook the doors and windows violently. I had just arrived a few days beforehand and, assuming we had been bombed, threw myself onto the ground against the wall. Moments later, a group of nurses walked into the room casually and looked at me, surprised and amused.
I have done some things that others considered brave at the time. I once broke up a fight between strangers in a night club and someone threw a glass tankard at me for doing it. I’ve done detached youth work on dangerous housing estates at night, hitch-hiked across Europe, taken relief supplies to a war zone, flown into a city just as it had been bombed, had secret basement meetings with guerrilla leaders.
Yet, if I’m honest, none of those things really felt scary at the time. Courage is about feeling the fear and doing it anyway. It’s about acting on an inner conviction, doing the right thing, even if the prospect of doing so feels terrifying. Christian teaching describes it as a spiritual quality, an admirable character trait, something to aspire to and to do. It calls for self-sacrificial choice, a step out of the safe zone.
And so I marvel at people who overcome their own self-preservation, who do something genuinely courageous. I want to be more like that, to do more like that, to emulate those who set such a noble example. It’s different to bravado because it implies humility, a willingness to trust in greater God or a greater good. So, when was the last time you felt fear yet exercised courage? What was your story and how did you do it?
Nick is a psychological coach, OD consultant and trainer, specialising in developing critical reflective practice.