Courage requires that you put your soul, including your vulnerabilities, on display.
I have a confession to make; I abhor the movie, The Wizard of Oz. Yes, I know that it is loved by millions but not by me. While watching it as a young child, I was afraid from start to finish. Of what, you say? Here’s an abbreviated list: I was terrified when:
1. Miss Gulch (Margaret Hamilton) took Toto and placed him in the basket of her bicycle.
2. The tornado hit the house.
3. The Wicked Witch of the West appeared.
4. The flying monkeys appeared (this was the worst one).
5. The hourglass is running out of time and Dorothy is beseeching Auntie Em for help.
6. The Wizard is introduced.
I can laugh about my fears now but I think it’s ironic that the movie that horrified me as a child had a supporting character that embodied my fears, the Cowardly Lion. This character is forced to confront his fears, and it’s this confrontation that provides this week’s workout.
What is courage?
In my language arts classroom, I find that my students have a difficult time when I ask them to explain what a word means. They will often use other forms of the word in their definitions. I’ll explain to them that using another form of the word does not define what it means. I then follow up with another question; I’ll ask them what the word is not, or the opposite meaning and they can answer this.
When considering what courage means, many incorrectly define it. Let’s think about what it is not.
1. Courage is not the absence of fear. A person is not courageous because he/she does not feel fear in an adverse situation.
2. Audacity is not a part of the core of courage. Audacity is being shamelessly brave. The “in your face” type of action when confronted with frightening things; its passive aggression.
3. The opposite of courage is not to discouragement. Discouragement is feeling depression and gloom; it often handicaps a person, preventing them from doing anything about its source.
What is courage? The word courage comes from the Latin words, cor; meaning heart and aev, meaning lifetime. It means to continually put one’s heart or soul on the line. While bravery is often placing your body on the line, courage requires you to put your soul, including your vulnerabilities, on display.
Examples of those who were courageous (and those that weren’t)
In the Old Testament book of Numbers, Moses sends 12 men into the Promised Land to spy. They were to observe the enemy’s strengths and weaknesses. In chapter 13, the spies surreptitiously covered the land, making mental notes. They saw that the land was good for farming; there were flourishing fruit trees and multiple water sources. A land “flowing with milk and honey.” That was the good news.
There was a downside of entering the Promised Land and this information horrified many. The spies reported that there were large, fortified cities. Archeologists have discovered that many of these cities had double walls surrounding them with look-out posts throughout. If these bits of information were not daunting enough, the spies also reported that there were giants that lived throughout the land, a big advantage when engaging in hand to hand combat. Numbers 14 reveals the children of Israel acted on their fear and chose not to be courageous.
Courage requires the workout of choice
I have tried to put myself in the sandals of the children of Israel in these circumstances and, honestly, I would have been as terrified as they were. The fact of being terrified, though, is not the focal point; courage acts despite these feelings. Joshua and Caleb understood and practiced the workout of choice while the other spies did not.
What kind of workout does courage require? This choice can be broken down into steps.
1. First, courage is a choice an individual makes. As a professor I had at Columbia International University frequently said, “you must choose by the act of the will.”
2. This choice should result from what you know rather than on how you feel. When we are in our teens (and sometimes even older), we often made choices based on what we feel; this is often not a good thing. As we mature, we realize that feelings fluctuate and are not always the best barometers when we consider the facts of a situation.
3. Courage demands that all information be taken into consideration. It is likely that Joshua and Caleb felt as much fear as the other 10 spies but they made the choice to consider more information than just the “in the moment” facts. It would be foolish if they did not contemplate the current facts of the dangers of entering the Promised Land but they also considered other facts, too.
These men looked back to all that God did for them in leaving the slavery of Egypt. God performed miracle after miracle resulting in the deliverance of His people. Now, God is, once again, instructing His people to make another frightening choice. Joshua and Caleb considered that when God asks His people to do something, He provides what is needed to accomplish the task, regardless of feelings in the moment.
4. Courage requires action.
When all facts are weighed, the courageous individuals are those that act based on the facts and not on feelings.
As to the Cowardly Lion and that terrifying move, The Wizard of Oz, the wizard starts out on the right track when he tells the lion, “you are a victim of disorganized thinking,” which is true of those who chose not to act courageously. The wizard then gives the lion a metal of courage because the lion did what needed to be done (destroyed the Wicked Witch of the West) despite his fears. That’s a good illustration of courage but, for the record, it’s not enough for me to change my thoughts and feelings about this movie.