“Remember Cedric. Remember, if the time should come when you have to make a choice between what is right and what is easy, remember what happened to a boy who was good, and kind, and brave, because he strayed across the path of Lord Voldemort. Remember Cedric Diggory.” – Albus Dumbledore (aka J.K. Rowling)
If you haven’t read Harry Potter, perhaps the idea of an adult quoting one of its characters seems juvenile. But in fact, this reminder from the wizard Dumbledore that life’s choices often don’t come down to right or wrong, but right or easy, is both true and important.
I’ve been thinking about the virtue of courage a bit lately. It wasn’t an over stressed virtue in my upbringing, which I now think was unfortunate. I heard the negative “don’t be afraid” much more often than the positive (and significantly more powerful) corollary “be courageous” or “be brave.” Love, faith, patience, honesty, happiness, even confidence were verbally extolled, but courage much less so.
I have often been taught confidence as an antidote to fear. Confidence is not courage, cannot take the place of courage, and is not equal to courage as a moral. Confidence is an assurance that one will perform well; courage is the quality that compels us to perform even when we have no assurance that we will succeed, or even if we are assured that there will be negative consequences. It has nothing to do with our abilities and everything to do with acceptance of what we cannot know, perhaps even of suffering. When confidence is no longer sufficient, courage pushes for action.
It is no secret that our society suffers from virtues gone wild (read G. K. Chesterton’s “Orthodoxy” if you’re skeptical). We pick and choose and under and over emphasize certain virtues to fit our present causes, which is an abuse of both morality and mankind (C. A. Lewis’ “Abolition of Man” has a good discussion on this). Our horrible exercise of separating and dismissing virtues, rather than accepting and harmonizing them, renders even the virtues we retain useless. For what use is tolerance if I’m too afraid of the social consequences to oppose bigotry? What is generosity if I’m too protective of my safety to help the homeless man on the street? Virtues need each other, and courage is needed no less than any other.
If love is the virtue that provides the reason for all others, then courage is the virtue that moves love into action; love compels while courage propels.
Perhaps Maya Angelou said it best when she said “Courage is the most important of all the virtues, because without courage you can’t practice any other virtue consistently. You can practice any virtue erratically, but nothing consistently without courage.”