Pretty much ever culture on the planet respects bravery in some way. In the tribal regions, brave warriors get special places of honor. In more modern regions, we honor bravery with awards and medals. Courage is still revered.
In American culture, it has typically held a special place. After all, we’re a nation born out of war who went from upstart rabble-rousers to superpower in a couple of centuries, all through warfare. It’s impossible to trade on conflict like that and not have a special regard for the brave people who made that happen.
However, we’ve never reserved our reverence for heroism as being just for our troops. Firefighters and police officers, in particular, have garnered praise for being in occupations that often require heroism on their part. Many communities will also honor private citizens for their bravery when it appears warranted.
We love heroes and dislike cowards.
It can be argued that I’ve been both.
Once upon a time, I chased off a man who was beating up his girlfriend. She and her family lived across the street from me, and I heard her calls for help and ran out.
For me, the act was little more than an attempt to expatiate the shame of an earlier incident I outlined in The Essence of Man where I failed to intervene and a young girl was assaulted right before my eyes while I pretended I saw nothing. Almost 30 years later, I’m still trying to move past that moment and I’m still disgusted by my own actions.
My wife was proud of me, and the girl and her family were thankful. I felt uncomfortable with it because I wasn’t doing anything particularly heroic, but other people disagreed. I think they’re wrong, but whatever.
For me, however, not acting had dire consequences. I knew the guilt and shame I’d have to live with by not intervening. It would amplify those feelings from the earlier incident and I just didn’t think I could survive that.
All these years later, I’ll still sit and reply that incident like it was yesterday, running it through my mind, praying that this time I’d step in.
In today’s world, there are some parties like to brag about “speaking truth to power,” they rarely speak any truth to any power that might actually do anything to them. There are people clamoring for “safe spaces” because they’re fearful of certain people who, deep down inside, they know won’t lay a finger on them.
Following the election, many people are screaming about how Trump is a fascist and will be an absolute tyrant, but they know inside that while he might be many things, they’re still relatively safe calling him things like that.
People today like to feign heroism with their rhetoric, but they’re nothing of the sort.
One of my favorite examples is how animal rights activists decided to decry animal cruelty by throwing red paint on women wearing fur coats. Sure, they’d get arrested and spend a bit of time in jail for “the cause,” but what real danger were they in? Almost none and they knew it.
They targetted wealthy women in a large city where violence is abhorred by the majority of the population. They didn’t do that at Daytona Bike Week.
Obviously, I’m not advising they go out and do that. The paint thing was idiotic in the first place, after all. My point is that they’re pretending to be brave when they’re not. Not really, anyway.
The issue here is that faux bravery carries weight with some people.
During the Civil Rights Movement, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and his followers were faced with dangers. Civil rights activists were murdered in some places. Their meeting places were the target of terrorist attacks. Even if they didn’t have to deal with that, they still often found themselves targetted with fire hoses and had dogs turned loose on them.
They faced danger. Real danger. They had courage.
Today, however, more people are interested in retreating into “safe spaces” or screaming hateful comments about speakers who they disagree with politically in an effort to shut them down. They’re terrified of being faced with a contrary opinion, so they want to eliminate those opinions from being voiced in their presence.
That’s not courage, it’s cowardice. It’s not heroism, it’s a profound moral failing. It shouldn’t be celebrated but exorcised from one’s person like a tumor.
Our modern world seems to have multiple personality disorder when it comes to bravery. We still honor veterans, as we should. We especially hold those with awards or courage with a certain reverential awe.
On the same hand, however, we permit petulant children to act like cowards and reward their behavior by giving them precisely what they want. They scream for trigger warnings about things most of them have never experienced but still make them “uncomfortable,” and they get them. They cry for colleges to ban speaker accused of WrongThink, and they do it. At every turn, cowardice is rewarded and encouraged by supposed authorities.
Our modern world needs more courage, not less. People need to be pulled out of their echo chambers and forced to confront their fears. No, I’m not saying they should be forced to change their beliefs, but they shouldn’t be permitted to shut down someone else simply because they believe differently.
When I wrote The Essence of Man, I presented courage as one of the four core masculine virtues, but the reality is that courage should be a human virtue. We should expect and demand it from not just our young males, but from every person.
Unfortunately, some sectors of our population just can’t do that.