Friday, June 24, 2005

A short history of courage

Courage used to mean a sort of blindness: acting 'with disregard for one's personal safety', a mad rage, to be admired (from a safe distance) rather than emulated.

Then it meant stoicism, like the wounded soldier who was asked by the general how he was "Well, I've lost my left leg, my right hand, and an eye, but, you know, can't complain". When people talk about 'brave' children this is usually what they mean-uncomplaining, untroublesome. This sort of courage allows those around them to deal with the suffering in their own way, interpreting it as part of The Plan, or the wages of sin, or just stuff that happens, or bad luck. You might also say this allows those who insist on looking on any available bright side to continue in their belief that all is for the best in the best of all possible worlds.

These days there are different sorts of heroes, what you might called post-modern heroes. Yes, they say, I will probably get killed, because I am a rational person who can weigh up the odds, but I am going to do it anyway. No nonsense about not minding, or not being scared, or angry, or sad; being all these things but still insisting that the biggest defeat would be to accept defeat.

A heartbreaking example of this is Cancer, baby which is a beautifully-written harrowing account of someone's cancer and its effect on her and her life, which manages to be clever and funny and clear-sighted while also being profoundly moving (keep your tissues handy).

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