What’s courage?

“You’re hurt and you want to stop? But we are just about to begin! Get up on your quads right now, you bunch of wimps!” Credit: Will Argunas.

I’ve been thinking a lot about courage in the last few days. A little over a year ago, I wrote about bravery. I said this:

I don’t think that brave feels brave. We imagine that bravery feels powerful- feels like facing your demons, overcoming them and triumphing.

I don’t think it’s supposed to feel strong. Not all the time, anyway. I think the bravest things we do are when we feel weak. Those times when you feel tiny and scared, when you don’t know how you’ll get through that thing you have to do, when you can’t look more than one step or moment ahead and in that tininess and shaking and nausea or whatever it is you somehow take that step and do a thing? When you’re a goddamn mess and the smallest thing is everything you can do?

That’s a hell of a lot braver than squared jaws, narrowed eyes and confident stares.

This feels relevant.

Murdering people who can’t fight back- even if you know you’ll give up your life for it in the end- isn’t brave. It’s cowardice. Pathetic, repugnant cowardice. It doesn’t matter if you’re shooting people in a school or a movie theater or a concert hall or a summer camp. I don’t care if you’re doing it for notoriety, martyrdom or a twisted idea of politics. I don’t care if you strap a bomb to yourself or fire one out of a plane. If you kill people who can’t fight back, you’re a coward.

Daesh are cowards, hiding behind guns so they can pretend they matter. They want to make cowards of the rest of us.

It’s not hard to do. We already have our fair share. Even before last week, Europe was quaking in its boots at the prospect of finding homes for some of the bravest people on the planet. People who’ve endured incredible hardship fleeing their homes in hope of finding somewhere they could rebuild their lives. I hear that America’s doing the same.

Cowards.

You know what bravery is? It’s #PorteOuverte. It’s knowing that there are murderers on the streets of your city- they could be anyone- and opening your door anyway. Because for every murderer there are thousands of people who need a place to rest. It’s refusing to cancel your Paris gig because you know exactly what it’s like to grow up in a city that people are afraid of.

People in the West are afraid. I understand. I’m one of them. Any time I’ve been out in town this week, I’ve felt that vulnerability. It’s right there in the back of my skull, in between my shoulderblades. A part of me understands that nothing can really stop them from killing any of us at any time. We can punish them afterwards (if they give us the chance), but we can’t prevent it.

We’re all afraid. It’s okay to be afraid. Remember: bravery doesn’t feel powerful. We are at our most brave when we feel the weakest.

Whatever we do, Daesh will kill again. They’re doing it right now! It may not be happening where you are I are from (or it may be). But people are losing their lives every day to these people.

What do we do?

We’re being presented with a false dichotomy: we bomb Syria, or we do nothing. We raise the walls around Fortress Europe (and America), or we’re just standing by and letting it all happen.

That doesn’t sit right with me. Here’s what that feels like: people who are terrified and don’t know how to admit that, who want to lash out at the people who hurt them until they go away. It’s the reaction of a cornered animal.

I understand it. The scared part of me feels like that too.

But we know that it’s not going to do a bloody bit of good. You don’t stop weeds growing by covering them in compost. Sure, it looks pretty good the day you do it. Come back in a few weeks, though, and you’ve just fed the problem.

I don’t know how to fix that.

I do know this: Islamophobia won’t do a damn thing to fix this. Attacking mosques and Muslims, lumping millions of people in with murderers will only make things far worse. Refusing refuge to people fleeing the very same groups who attack us here is senseless- we are more than capable of growing our own Daesh terrorists. This is 2015. We can communicate across the globe in an instant, and you think that a border will stop people indoctrinating each other? And even if that weren’t the case: people have the right to refuge.

I know that we also need to defend ourselves. And that we have a responsibility to do that right. If we rage against the killing of innocents, we make damn sure that we don’t do the same thing to anyone else.

I know that we can’t solve cowardliness by being cowards ourselves. I know that the only way to stop the growth of a movement rooted in Western inhumanity is to start treating others like humans. Cut it off at the roots. Fight fire with some goddamn water for a change.

I love this:

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2 thoughts on “What’s courage?

  1. 1

    When I was younger, I also realized that courage doesn’t mean fearlessness (which is often a symptom of psychopathy). To remember, I formulated it this way: Courage is doing what needs to be done, even though you’re afraid.

    Duty is just doing what needs to be done, even though you’d rather be doing something else.

    Love, on the other hand, is doing what needs to be done, even though you’re not receiving any benefit. Opening your door to strangers takes both courage and love.

    “It’s not doing the thing we like to do, but liking the thing we have to do that makes life blessed.” Goethe

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