Courage in Everyday Life

One of the things that martial artists do is take warrior concepts, such as honor, duty, courage and discipline, and try to make these concepts more concrete so that they can be used in everyday life for “average” people.  Just because most people do not have to face life-or-death decisions everyday in modern society, does not mean that they have no use for courage and discipline. In no where is this there a more important example than the recent Penn State scandal.

As I tried to come to terms with the information coming out from Penn State , I tried to understand what I was most upset/angry about.  I came to the conclusion that , oddly enough, I was not most upset at the main suspect.  Don’t get me wrong; if the allegations are true, I view him as a monster that should be put away forever.  But you can only get so angry at a predator that does what predators do; prey on the young or the weak.  I realized that I was much more angry at the others involved in the scandal.  I was angry at the good people who did not have the courage to do the right thing.  I was angry at the people who stood by and did nothing, to the detriment of several little boys.  They did not understand the concept of courage.

Courage has many definitions, I’m sure, but the definition that is most useful for me is; courage is taking action in the face of fear.  Courage is doing the right thing when fear tells you not to.  Those other people involved in the Penn State scandal were (and are) good people.  They pay their taxes, they work hard at their jobs, they take care of their families.  But when faced with a criminal act, they knew what they were supposed to do, yet didn’t, because they were scared of the consequences.  They justified it by saying to themselves, “I didn’t commit this crime.  Why should I have to suffer the consequences of reporting it?”  So, they either did nothing or the bare minimum, and tried to ignore it ever happened.

This lack of courage has catastrophic consequences for society.  When good people do nothing when they see crimes against humanity, it allows ever-increasing atrocities to occur.  It is this mentality that allows countless wives to be beaten, that allowed slavery as a way of life, that allowed the Nazis to commit horrible crimes.  One can quickly see that not having the courage to stand up and report wrongdoing damages us all.  It certainly did not save the Penn State staff from consequences.  Karma always comes around.

Here is the question you must ask yourself right now.  I am willing to bet that you are a good person.  Do you have the courage to report wrong-doing?  There will always be criminals and crime.  But good people who do not have the courage to do the right thing make criminals 10X more powerful.  It is very difficult to know what to do when you are in the middle of the problem.  Remember, courage is taking action even though you are scared. So, get a hold of your fear,  go ahead and do the right thing.  Not only will you be able to live with yourself better, society will benefit as well.

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One Reply to “Courage in Everyday Life”

  1. Sensei,

    Thank you for your column about courage. It was interesting, too, how you distinguished between your anger at the Penn State pederast, and your anger at those who were in a position to stop him, but did nothing. One can only wonder how they justified their inaction to themselves.
    It always appears ’easy’ to see what is the right thing to do, when presented with such an enormous injustice, and we all like to believe we would act correctly when the stakes are so high. But the stakes are almost always high, even when the situation seems unimportant, and affects no one but yourself. Acts of courage come in all sizes. I see them in the dojo all the time.
    There are people who are very uncomfortable with attempting rolls, but keep trying anyway; or who have physical disabilities, but deal with them and continue to advance their training. It’s nerve-wracking to practice jiyu-waza (I find it so, anyway), but we stand on the mat and face our attackers. It’s a small act of courage to ask for help, for clarification, for feedback; and to admit that there is always room to do something a little better than last time.
    And why are the stakes high, even with these small things? Consider where you end up if you choose always to avoid facing them: you never learn to roll well, and thus increase your chances of being injured as uke; you accept a limitation of your abilities, without finding out where that limit really is; you stagnate in your training; you do not learn an honest humility.
    Habits developed in the dojo become habits outside the dojo. If I demonstrate courage in the small things, on the mat, I can do it on the larger stage of my life.

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