Courage: what is it?
Courage is related to fear, right? It’s not ignoring fear though.
Ignoring fear is foolishness, no matter how popular or common that is. If you are driving and other people start honking their horns, they are promoting extra alertness or caution. Wouldn’t it be foolish to dismiss a bunch of honking because “those people are probably just afraid, which is never wise?”
Fear (or fright) is a sudden shift of attention to a possible risk. In other words, the purpose of fright is to produce caution. Lack of caution (carelessness, negligence, complacence) is certainly not courage.
People who reactively condemn the display of fear or distress are reacting in distress. People only condemn what disturbs them (what terrifies them).
People who are hysterically terrified of social criticism can attempt to pretend not to experience fear, but it is fear that leads them to withdraw in to exclusive clusters (like an anti-fear church). I respect the potential value of withdrawing in fear and shame. It is wise to quickly withdraw from potential distractions and complications out of fear (out of commitment to other priorities). It is certainly valuable to precisely assess possible threats. It is also understandable to lean toward caution or conservatism.
I also respect that, in deep shame, some people may attempt to confuse courage with withdrawing in shame to an exclusive cluster of like-minded people (“safe” people who are also paranoid about displaying fear, so the whole group can all repress the display of fear). When the display of fear is socially shamed, such as in certain churches, then even simply displaying fear can inquire a surge of courage (and even going outside of one’s familiar social circles). By avoiding fear, many people who call themselves “spiritually-advanced” are also avoiding courage (and caution, too).
So what is courage? It could involve doing something that is rarely done, like something that gets no social rewards or approval (or even something that can lead to loss of privileges or punishment).
Courage involves a respect for perceptiveness in general. In particular, courage is about precisely perceiving risk and opportunity.
It is foolish to act without awareness of risk and opportunity. It is even more foolish to know better opportunities and lower risks, yet act anyway in spite of that knowledge. That is self-sabotage (self-destruction).
However, because of social anxiety, it is quite common to act in disregard of risk and opportunity. People may want to avoid the experience of being perceived as unusual. An extreme paranoia about risking social criticism can lead to people taking actions simply because they are popular or familiar, in contrast to taking actions because the actions have been assessed as reliably producing relevant results.
Since I called the paranoia “extreme,” one might presume that I mean rare extremes of paranoia. However, I consider extreme paranoia quite common.
The courage to recognize common paranoias as paranoid
How does extreme paranoia get to be so common? I think that public schools are a primary contributor to extremes of social paranoia.
Imagine that a child goes in to a classroom with lots of other kids and the teacher says “I am going to present some ideas to you and you will memorize them so you can be rewarded for repeating them just as I presented them to you.” Then the teacher may say “what is important to you is to stop your body from making any substances that poison all of you, such as this one:”
Again, what just happened is not the teaching of science. Science (as I understand the term) is not the practice of memorizing unexamined assertions.
Of course, students are being programmed with reflexive hysteria about a particular substance, but even that detail is secondary to the general pattern of unquestioning acceptance of the assertions of the authority. The authority makes a claim. The students (usually) focus on memorizing the claim (without considering for even one moment the accuracy or precision of the claim). Then, there is a social validation of the students who most effectively repeat on a test a bunch of the claims in the curriculum. The general pattern is social anxiety in competition for the approval of the authority (which is scarce / conditional).
But what about students who do not show sufficient enthusiasm for blindly repeating the teacher’s claims? What about students who question the relevance of the lessons? What about students who even question the accuracy of the claims made by the teacher?
Of students who fail to be enthusiastic about blindly repeating the teacher’s claims, there are a few types. All of them can be disciplinary issues for the smooth managing of a classroom.
The students who are perhaps too smart to be caught up in the drama can be put in to gifted programs (or can skip a grade) so that they can be amongst students and content that is more challenging for them. Students who are just too wild (anxious) for the typical classroom can be drugged (subdued pharmaceutically). Students who are too slow to compete with their peers can be put in to special classes with a different levels of competitiveness.
Students who respond relatively well to the common levels of test anxiety promoted in their classroom can stay in that classroom. Their natural curiosity can be diverted by the curriculum and they can be taught that science is blindly repeating unexamined assertions (among other trivia).
Governments thrive on compliance, especially to tax laws and other methods of redistribution from the masses to the government elite. So, governments measure compliance and reward it.
When there is a social context of rewarding compliance, that can lead to shaming anyone’s lack of enthusiasm for mastering the art of compliance. That can lead to a vilification of non-compliance (as in a vilification of courage).
However, non-compliance with tax laws, for instance, may be foolish rather than courageous. Courage is not acting in spite of risk.
Courage is first about recognizing opportunities that the masses are too distracted (by their extreme paranoia) to notice. Many will even dismiss an unfamiliar opportunity just because it is embarassingly unfamiliar to them. In fact, if the opportunity involves a method that is contrary to a method they have been using, they may be terrified of the idea that they may have been naive in their blind compliance with popular practices (typically, those marketed to them through mainstream media and schools).
If some MD has been prescribing statin medication for a few decades with the sincere presumption that the statin drugs are beneficial, it can be quite shocking to read the actual medical research on the subject. The idea with statin drugs is that they attack the functioning of the liver, which impairs production by the liver of certain substances which are presumed poisonous. What if those demonized “poisons” are not actually poisonous? Wouldn’t that be a challenging emotional experience for that person to even consider? Why not just react with dismissive, antagonistic hysteria? In other words, why not come up with an excuse to flee from the subject of the scientific accuracy of their sacred presumptions?
It would take courage to admit to prior errors (especially prior naivete). It could take courage to question the scientific credibility of any of the sacred presumptions of “mainstream science” (even just to question it in private).
Note that by “mainstream science” here, I do not mean what scientists do. I mean what teachers and the media program the masses to believe about what scientists do.
Note that the above references to C24H40O were intentionally misleading. That was cholic acid. Pictured directly above is cholesterol (C27H46O) which many scientists claim is a substance made by every healthy liver on the planet as part of a healthy organism. Also, these “so-called scientists” claim that they have observed that when tissue deteriorates, cholesterol is sent to the area to promote repair of tissue. So, they have measured that cholesterol levels are correlated to certain states of poor health. However, the claim that cholesterol ever causes tissue damage is a completely distinct idea. Even if it ever causes damage, does it always?
The value of courage
So, first it is valuable to recognize opportunities that the masses may be too distracted or paranoid to consider. Further, there is a similar issue with risk. The masses may be driven by mainstream programming in to such enthusiastic manias that they believe things to be safe simply because the government did not call them dangerous.
What if people assessed relevance, risk, and opportunity directly (such as using their own logic applied to their own observations and measurements)? Many things that they were programmed to relate to as great opportunities might not be. Some things that they were programmed to relate to as risky could be safe and reliable and beneficial. Other things that were never referenced in mainstream curriculum could be the most relevant opportunities of all.
What is the value of courage? One value is to intelligently assess the actual relevance of anything that mainstream programming presents as relevant, plus be responsible for what one identifies as relevant (as a priority). Another value is to assess the risks of mainstream complacency (in general and in particular cases) and then minimize or avoid those risks. One more value is to assess opportunities precisely (whether the mainstream ignores or adores those topics).
Courage is relevant. Courage exercises freedom and develops it.
If you were open to experiencing a new level of courage, what would you do? If you were willing to experience a huge and sudden relief from social anxiety, how willing could you be?