The meaning of courage

Ever woken up one morning and felt today is the day you are going to tell your boss what an unreasonable, unevolved, multifaceted douchebag s/he is? It’s going down, today! Today, everything’s going to change. Today, you will redefine courage. So, you get to work – you see your boss coming and all you can muster is a Good morning and a really awkward smile as s/he walks right through you like you don’t even exist.


Courage is a big deal.We admire people that show courage. We wish we could be more like them: challenging authority, standing up for someone, standing up for ourselves, taking the big risks, living the life of our choice, failing and moving on like nothing ever happened, looking into the boss’s big empty eyes and saying, screw you guys, I am goin’ home. You get the point.

The image of courage once had a tough-grimy-blood flowing from the side of the face- spartan-warrior-like unstoppability to it. That was the time of intense chaos, hope in the face of hopelessness, and finding meaning within the confines of the regular shit-storms that hit the world.

As the world is inching away from half a century of screw-up’s, new floodgates have opened up for courage. Courage has become about demanding your rights, quitting a lucrative job to start a school in a village, and not logging on to Facebook for an entire day. On one hand, it shows the world has become more peaceful – however unbelievable may sound. On the other hand, it shows the new world romanticization of courage.

Letting go of lucrative job to start a school is still courage. In the limited definition of courage we have left, that ranks somewhere between Malala identifying herself on the bus and you smashing your boss’s face into a cake. What we are left with however is a very narrow definition of courage. Courage has moved from a necessity to remain alive to a motivational mojo wrapped into a facebook timeline. It has become a skewed, sickly version of its former self. It has become waking up one morning deciding everything’s going to change that very day. It has become a privilege few can afford.

We are all at different levels of courage. Some go out into the borders to keep the nation safe, some drop out of school to start a business, some refuse fat pay cheques to go educate children,  some shut down everything they did for a decade and start afresh.  Some get married.

And some look at all this and wonder, “when will I be courageous enough?”

Sometimes courage involves laying down your life for something bigger than yourself, or for someone else. Sometimes it involves giving up everything you have ever known, or everyone you have ever loved, for the sake of something greater. Sometimes, it’s the one grand act that changes the course of your life, and many other lives along the way. But sometimes it is none of this. Sometimes it is nothing more than gritting your teeth through the pain and work of every day, the slow walk toward a better life. Sometimes, it’s mundane little sacrifices you make without anyone around to watch¹.

We don’t notice this kind of courage. In others and in ourselves. Because it’s boring. At a time when we all want to know our purpose – like yesterday and want that dream job – like tomorrow, and want everyone to understand us – like now, it is the slow walk through drudgery, obscurity, and mediocrity toward dream, opportunity, and meaning that is becoming rare. That’s the courage we need more of. That’s the courage we need to wake up to.

Be courageous.


[1] Much of this paragraph is straight out of Veronica Roth’s book, Allegiant from the Divergent series.  I had rambled on about courage for much longer before I stumbled on this paragraph about bravery in her book.

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