Thursday, October 29, 2009

Courage - the spirit of virtue

In my recent post To base jump or not to base jump? I spoke about risk and pleasure, namely that to risk one’s life for the sake of pleasure was something I could not understand. Halvor Angvik, the chap in the video hurtling down the Eiger in a wingsuit, replied he would rather say “I won’t risk going through my life without living.”

Having thought some more on the subject, I think I was wrong to say they are risking their lives for pleasure. Pleasure is not the right word. And I was wrong to dismiss such noble aims as ‘pushing beyond one’s limits’ and ‘conquering one’s fear’ with the back of the hand as being nothing more than searching for ‘a kick’. Pushing beyond limits and conquering fear are valid and important activities and deserve more respect than that.
I feel like the proverbial critic sitting safely in his armchair, speaking about those who bravely act.

It is not the critic who counts, not the man who points out how the strong man stumbled, or where the doer of deeds could have done better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood, who strives valiantly, who errs and comes short again and again, who knows the great enthusiasms, the great devotions, and spends himself in a worthy cause, who at best knows achievement and who at the worst if he fails at least fails while daring greatly so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who know neither victory nor defeat. Theodore Roosevelt

With those who identify happiness with virtue or some one virtue our account is in harmony; for to virtue belongs virtuous activity. But it makes, perhaps, no small difference whether we place the chief good in possession or in use, in state of mind or in activity. For the state of mind may exist without producing any good result, as in a man who is asleep or in some other way quite inactive, but the activity cannot; for one who has the activity will of necessity be acting, and acting well. And as in the Olympic Games it is not the most beautiful and the strongest that are crowned but those who compete (for it is some of these that are victorious), so those who act win, and rightly win, the noble and good things in life. Aristotle (Nocomachean Ethics)

In his response, Halvor went on to say this:

Every person has to take calculated risks at some points in life to get or do something they really want, something that makes life worth living. It does not have to be physical consequences; it might be an economical compromise, related to someone you love or other things you really value in life. Some risks might be bigger than others, but once you've found out what you really want to do in life I bet you would think its worth taking some risks for.
What’s left of life if you won’t risk doing what you really want to do? Are you truly living then? I would not be.

He is absolutely right of course. Base jumping is the extreme example, but taking risks to go after what you want is part of life, or should be. Most of us would not even be here if our fathers had not taken the risk of making a first move toward our mothers. Everything good we have achieved in our life at some point involved our taking a risk. Sometimes a small one, sometimes a greater.

Courage doesn't always roar. Sometimes courage is the little voice at the end of the day that says I'll try again tomorrow. Mary Anne Radmacher

Sometimes the biggest act of courage is a small one. Lauren Raffo

For man's greatest actions are performed in minor struggles. Life, misfortune, isolation, abandonment and poverty are battlefields which have their heroes - obscure heroes who are at times greater than illustrious heroes. Victor Hugo

When I was a young man living in England, I knew I wanted to leave and live abroad. And I knew with absolute certainty that it would happen, one way or another. So when the opportunity came to go to the Bahamas to work, I took it without a second thought. Of course I was nervous when the day approached and I was leaving my family (who I would see again only once in the next 13 years). But it was what I wanted with all my heart, so I did not bat an eyelid. Later, much later, I was to move to Canada, to French Quebec in fact, where I didn’t have a job or speak the language. Again, ‘necessity’ gave me all the courage I needed.

Necessity does the work of courage. Nicholas Murray Butler

The important thing is this: To be able at any moment to sacrifice what we are for what we could become. Charles Dubois

Look back on your life and you will see that all your victories, small and great, required courage and willingness to take a risk. And how many of your disappointments and failures can you put down to your fear to act or follow through?

In my posts about humility we came across this quote:

Humility is the root, mother, nurse, foundation, and bond of all virtue. Saint John Chrysostom

Humility may be the root of virtue, but as we shall see, courage is its spirit.

Courage is the first of human qualities because it is the quality which guarantees all others. Winston Churchill

Without courage, all other virtues lose their meaning. Winston Churchill

Courage is reckoned the greatest of all virtues; because, unless a man has that virtue, he has no security for preserving any other. Samuel Johnson

Courage is the greatest of all the virtues. Because if you haven't courage, you may not have an opportunity to use any of the others. Samuel Johnson

One isn't necessarily born with courage, but one is born with potential. Without courage, we cannot practice any other virtue with consistency. We can't be kind, true, merciful, generous, or honest. Maya Angelou

With courage you will dare to take risks, have the strength to be compassionate, and the wisdom to be humble. Courage is the foundation of integrity. Keshavan Nair

Courage is not simply one of the virtues, but the form of every virtue at the testing point. C.S. Lewis

Courage and resolution are the spirit and soul of virtue. Thomas Fuller

Courage is the footstool of the Virtues, upon which they stand. Robert Louis Stevenson

Courage is the basic virtue for everyone so long as he continues to grow, to move ahead. Rollo May

Nothing but courage can guide life. Marquis de Vauvenargues

True courage is not the brutal force of vulgar heroes, but the firm resolve of virtue and reason. Alfred North Whitehead

No passion so effectually robs the mind of its powers of acting and reasoning as fear. Edmund Burke

To conquer fear is the beginning of wisdom. Bertrand Russell

Half a man's wisdom goes with his courage. Ralph Waldo Emerson

Courage is always the surest wisdom. Wilfred Grenfell

Without courage, wisdom bears no fruit. Baltasar Gracian

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Discover The Tale of Genji, the 11th Century classic of Japan (click image)

Discover The Tale of Genji, the 11th Century classic of Japan (click image)
Kiyomizudera Temple has a large veranda looking out over Kyoto and beyond