All religions, all mythologies tell us about courage.
They tell us how to act in times when we feel our survival is threatened. They help us confront our fear of death.
However, a threat to the ego can often be experienced, on some level, as a threat to one’s survival. The death of another little part of itself is a real death threat to the ego.
Though our religions and mythologies may have helped us to recognize this type of threat and the courage required to overcome it…
…I believe, the case must be made more clearly.
We often don’t see our daily acts of courage—those times when we go against the dictates of the ego, when we raise ourselves to a higher perspective…
…those times when we make a conscious effort to change.
I think most of us want to feel that we are courageous—or at least, capable of courage. Like many, I look to last week’s shooting spree in Tucson and wonder how I would have responded.
Would I have joined those unarmed men in wrestling the shooter to the ground? Could have I have sacrificed myself like the man who died while shielding his wife?
Most of us will never know how we would react in such circumstances. But fortunately, there are other acts of courage open to us. If we can become conscious of these other acts of courage, I believe we will work even harder to transform our lives. In plain language: we’ll become better people.
Further, if we can begin to see these less obvious acts of courage, I believe it might improve the behavior of those engaged in “the public debate”.
At present in our public debate, acts of ego survival are often seen as signs of strength—as being tough. Whereas to show restraint in public discourse can be considered a sign of weakness.
It’s hard to show restraint if you feel threatened—if you feel you may lose points with your party or your supporters, if you’re worried about your TV ratings, if you want to protect your reputation, if you fear ridicule from your colleagues. If you fear you’ll lose the next election. If you fear you’ll lose your book deal. If you fear you’ll lose your career. If you fear public shame.
If those of us not directly involved in the public debate can acknowledge the less obvious courageous act and then act courageously…
…we can set an example for our leaders, and those who report and comment on our leaders. We can lead our leaders.
We can show them that to treat the opposition with respect—to treat the other as you would wish to be treated—to not react abusively to abuse, to reject the urge to slander or belittle the other, is an act of courage…
…because, in so doing, we’ve ceased to try to protect the ego.
We can show them that the attack—too often seen as bold and brave…
…is actually a sign of fear.
If our new mythology can help us see the true nature of strength, I believe we’ll respond by becoming better—more courageous—human beings. Because that’s what we want to be.
Ironically, I think our ego actually can help us here—because we do want to feel good about ourselves, we want to see ourselves in the best light: we want see ourselves as courageous—we want to be courageous…
We want to be courageous for the sake of others, but for our own sake as well—to help us live at peace with ourselves within the confines of our own skins.
© 2011, Michael R. Patton