1. You are an advocate for changing fear, as opposed to fearing change
By transforming fear into courage, you understand that power is merely a stopgap that must be expiated, lest it corrupt absolutely. For any action to count as courageous it must first come from an understanding that the current situation has changed so drastically that the requirements for courage must change along with it. You understand, as Anais Nin did, that, “Life shrinks or expands in proportion to one’s courage.”
Here’s the thing: We are all afraid. We’re afraid of losing our privilege, afraid of imprisonment, afraid of repression, afraid of being the bad guy, and afraid of doing the wrong thing. Most of all we’re afraid of losing face in front of our peers. But when the fear of remaining the same outweighs the fear of change, your fear will be transformed into courage and your inertia will be transformed into action. A courageous person understands this. They have transformed their lives into an open-ended adventure. They have trumped fear with courage. They have trumped inertia with action. It all begins with the acceptance that nothing remains the same, and then being proactive about what it means to change.
2. You have decided to become a “well-armed lamb”
In Matrix-terms you have taken the red pill. You have chosen the pain that comes from knowledge over the bliss that comes from ignorance. And in the face of entrenched political parties, you have gleaned the wisdom from Benjamin Franklin’s statement, “Democracy is two wolves and a lamb deciding on what to eat for lunch. Liberty is a well-armed lamb contesting the vote.” You seek to consistently contest immoral, unhealthy votes, while continually seeking to arm yourself with increasingly more knowledge. Autodidactism becomes you. Self-knowledge and the ability to unlearn, de-school, and deprogram outdated modes of acquiring knowledge become paramount in a world of repression and suppression.
A courageous person learns how to use the “shoulders of giants” as springboards into higher states of knowledge. Only self-education has the power to pluck the plank of hypocrisy from the eye of blind allegiance; be that allegiance to the military, the police, or to xenophobic, patriotic pride. Here, education is autonomous, having little or nothing to do with monetary reward or “getting a job.” For an autodidact the pursuit of knowledge is an act of courage itself; knowledge is gained for the sake of knowledge, as opposed to the typical pursuit of titles, money, and careers. A well-armed lamb doesn’t seek titles, rank, or fame, because he/she understands that “people don’t follow titles, they follow courage.”
3. You have the ability to question authority
You can discern the difference between the virtue of dissent and the vice of anger. You understand that insurgency, the rarest and most courageous of acts, is seldom distinguished from rage, the most common and myopic. The subjugated role of the slave and the soldier puts this concept into perspective. Slaves, like soldiers, do what they’re told. Soldiers, like slaves, ask no questions. Both slaves and soldiers are spoon-fed their orders and their blind obedience keeps the whole violently, exploitative machine going. Most slaves, upon waking up from their slavery, will experience anger or rage when they discover that servitude has come at the expense of their freedom. Similarly, most soldiers (if they can get over their pride), will experience anger or rage toward a corrupt chain of command when they discover that what they were “fighting for” was a lie.
But, what if a slave decides to rise up and catalyze the entire notion of slavery? What if a soldier decides to turn the tables and question the chain of command? What usually happens is the slave gets shot and the soldier gets placed into a military prison, but with intelligent, forthright persuasion (ie. MLK, JFK, and Ghandi), one can change the world for the better. And if the fear of death or imprisonment should discourage you, see sign number one. To avoid death and prison, see sign number two.
4. You consistently fight to think outside of the current condition
You have the courage to push the envelope and emerge as a free being. If, as Robert Green Ingersoll suggested, “the intellectual advancement of man depends on how often he can exchange an old superstition for a new truth” then is it not also true that the evolution of man itself advances depending upon how often he can exchange outdated, parochial methods of governance with new, more holistic methods? And doesn’t this further suggest to us that personal growth depends upon how often we can stretch comfort zones, break mental paradigms, and think outside of the current box? In other words, is not growth the ability to courageously “move past” precondition in a healthy way?
Here’s the thing: all people are born into a condition. Whether it’s an environmental condition or a cultural one, people do not choose the condition they are born into. A courageous person constantly seeks to remold, adapt, and/or overcome their current condition; especially when it comes to perceptual condition. When people care more about how they are perceived than about what is threatening them, unhealthy reasoning abounds and irrelevant, outdated systems become entrenched. But if people can care more about what is threatening them than about how they are perceived, healthy reasoning becomes paramount and a healthier world becomes a possibility.
5. You live moderately so that others may moderately live
You have simplified your lifestyle, recognizing that a lightness of being allows for greater freedom of expression. Knowing that excess, hoarding and stockpiling are critical reasons why the world is in such disrepair, you purposefully and proactively shed any and all unnecessary baggage. You realize that once basic needs are met our desire to accumulate more “stuff” actually undermines our happiness.
You know what constitutes true courage is the openness and adaptability of your spirit, realizing that courage and adaptability are inseparable. With this understanding comes a plasticity and adaptability to change that those who live complex, materialistic lifestyles cannot know. The freedom gleaned from this “lightness of being” opens up one’s third eye, thereby transforming the ego-centric My-World into the eco-centric Our-World, while also revealing how nationalism creates divisive patriotic value distortions. You have the ability to transform boundaries into horizons, understanding that living a simple life blurs the lines drawn by governmental institutions. You live deliberately so that others may deliberately live. This means that your life is lived with flexible, conscientious, proactive intention as opposed to rigid, mindless, reactive tension. And you become a prime example for how to live courageously.
6. You have the ability to become a freedom unto yourself
By trumping inertia with direct, courageous action, you have become a force of freedom. The natural progression of inertia is nihilism, which eventually leads to tyranny. It is only by acting courageous in the face of inertia, that one thwarts the would-be tyrant within. Like Audre Lorde said, “The true focus of revolutionary change is never merely the oppressive situations which we seek to escape, but that piece of the oppressor which is planted deep within each of us.” In order not to allow their inner-tyrant to get ahold of the reigns, you have clipped the yoke of the status quo, knowing that had you not done so you would have just become another run-of-the-mill pawn in someone else’s game.
You understand the need to redefine the concept of courage itself, realizing that the courage your forefathers used may be outdated within the current zeitgeist. You appreciate that we are all unique and that courageous people are deliberately and intentionally unique, realizing that there is a purpose to their uniqueness. You have become a freedom unto yourself because you have tuned into your own uniqueness and you allow it to blossom, thereby redefining courage for your particular place in time. The fruit harvested from this blossoming will serve to nourish your spirit for the rest of your life, and will give you the aplomb needed to withstand the vicissitudes of change.
7. You have accepted that life is pain
You understand that suffering is a side effect of love. But you choose to love anyway, despite the pain. You have learned to suffer well, grasping that there is an art in suffering that only the happiest people know. You can whistle happily, and you can suffer happily, but unless you do something there is no happiness. Embracing the pain of life may seem crazy, but to the courageous person it’s mother’s milk. Like Nietzsche wrote, “There is always some madness in love. But there is always some reason in madness.”
You realize that comfort can lead to believing that being human is easy. Pain can lead to a wake-up call, or it can just hurt, but it can never lead to believing that being human is easy. And so you choose pain over comfort and find courage there. Accepting that pain is the hard center of love, you embrace it, soften it, and transform it into wisdom. It is this wisdom that will carry you through life’s vicissitudes and make you stronger for it. “Because consciousness must involve both pleasure and pain, to strive for pleasure to the exclusion of pain is, in effect, to strive for the loss of consciousness,” wrote Alan Watts. “The greater part of human activity is designed to make permanent those experiences and joys which are only lovable because they are changing. Music is a delight because of its rhythm and flow. Yet the moment you arrest the flow and prolong a note or chord beyond its time, the rhythm is destroyed. Because life is likewise a flowing process, change and death are its necessary parts. To work for their exclusion is to work against life.” A courageous person never works against life.
8. You are willing to be wrong
There’s an old African proverb that says, “Through mistakes one becomes wise.” You understand this, but you further understand that only by learning from mistakes and capitalizing on the knowledge gained will it bear fruit. This potential for wisdom is a courageous person’s goal. You understand the ironic paradox of right/wrong: that you’re more likely to be right by admitting that you’re more than likely wrong than if you were to declare that you’re more than likely right. This is because of human fallibility. Nobody is perfect. You accept this and, through much trial and error and perseverance, you roll with the punches of your own fallibility and therein discover your capacity for courage. Like Saint Augustine wrote, “fallor ergo sum.” I err, therefore I am.
By examining your sense of certainty in cases where you turn out to be objectively wrong, you can learn to think differently about your conviction in situations where you feel subjectively right. This takes an enormous amount of courage, because admitting that our worldview might be wrong, or incomplete, is one of the most challenging things a human being can do. There is always room for improvement. Having the courage to be wrong gives you the courage to admit when you are wrong. In the end you leave yourself open to further realizing your potential for truth. The secret of life is to appreciate the joy of being wrong about a great many things. Like the great Rollo May said, “We must be fully committed, but we must also be aware at the same time that we might possibly be wrong. Our commitment to an idea is healthiest when it is not without doubt, but in spite of doubt.”
About the Author
Z, a former Navy Intelligence Specialist turned philosopher, is the author of Birthday Suit of God and The Looking Glass Man. His works are inspired by the great philosophers of the ages and his wide awake view of the modern world. His recent works can be seen here and also found at Z’s Hub.
This article is offered under Creative Commons license. It’s okay to republish it anywhere as long as attribution bio is included and all links remain intact.
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