Learning a new skill, balancing work and family, or transitioning to a new industry is rarely celebrated as stories of courage. Everyday courage has been relegated to the mundane. Isn’t that a shame? We should be in awe of the heroes of amazing stories of courage…and of our neighbor’s everyday courage as well! Over the years I have gathered examples of what I call “amazing courage.” These types of stories are the antithesis of my extensive fourteen years of research. I focus on the footnotes of everyday people. Roman philosopher, Seneca, wrote “Sometimes even to live is an act of courage.”
• The word courage is interpreted more frequently in the media as the word heroic. CNN featured “Courage Under Fire” about the loss of naval personnel at the Pentagon during the annual review of September 11, 2002.
• Abraham Lincoln, Eleanor Roosevelt and Princess Diana are heroic images. Washington D. C. is a virtual shrine to heroes.
• The heroic actions of the United Airlines Flight 93 that crashed into a farmer’s field outside a small town in Pennsylvania, and the heroic responses we watched on television during the World Trade Center terrorist attack demonstrate contemporary examples.
• Even PGA golf tournament commentators refer to a challenging golf shot: “Tiger’s going for another courageous shot!” This statement implies risk-taking or “going for it.”
• The commentator for the Kentucky Derby on May 3, 2003 called the race a “Courageous race.” A quote from the movie “Sea biscuit says it all: “It’s never their feet; its right here” (points to his heart). The etymology of the word courage is Old French, corage, meaning “heart and spirit.” We saw courage actions by Penny Chenery Tweedy as she guided her long-shot but precocious stallion, Secretariat, in 1973 to win the Triple Crown.
• While many claim that courage and heroic are synonymous, using them as such does a disservice to the concept of courage. Firefighter Captain Mary agrees, “People notice heroes dealing with disaster and emergency responses. When a civilian dials 911 for help, it’s the worst day of his/her life. But, it’s no big deal to me. I don’t appreciate it when my career is integrated or associated with disasters much less heroism. I am a skilled professional doing my job.”
• Tori Murden McClure (who rowed the Atlantic Ocean solo) showed physical courage.
• Most of the time, courage is focused on fictional drama or soap opera sagas, unrelenting sorrow, sensationalism, famous people or the historical deceased; otherwise, they wouldn’t be on television, make history books or be featured on a PBS documentary. Great leaders have always acted from their hearts. For the rest of us, notions of courage as only extreme heroism diminish the opportunities to claim and display the heartfelt value of courage in us all.
• “Amazing Stories of Courage” was an Oprah Show that featured several non-gender vignettes about startling stories they deemed as courage. One example was overcoming leukemia and another was coping with life as a paraplegic after saving a child from a fatal accident. When the producer asked me to analyze her interviews based on my research, I found myself saying, “I never want these situations to happen to me or my loved ones.” Supporting and associating the word courage only with these types of images discount everyday actions in everyday people. I know, I am one of them!
• Christopher Reeves is a contemporary story of amazing physical courage. A spokesperson for the advancement of paraplegics walking, he was determined to walk again. To ensure we are informed about his progress and intent, his son produced a documentary called “Courageous Steps” for ABC television (9/18/02). Events of this magnitude challenge people to reexamine their entire lives and values.
As one of my dear friends shared, “Small steps accumulate into a big feat.” Thank you Polly for your heartfelt courage!
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