Saturday, April 02, 2011

Courage and Its Cousin

Two earliest virtues that went into my mind very strongly in childhood are courage and honesty. To put it simple – “don’t fear” and “don’t lie”. But, I did learn later about fearing the fearful and lying for good – like all of you did.

“Courage is not the absence of fear but conquering it”, they say. I think, most of our courage is only the absence of fear. Rather, it is the result of our failure to think of the worst – to think of what thoughtless courage could land us in. The courage that we have been having from childhood is also one such thing. We are courageous because we don’t know what would happen if we don’t fear the fearful.

We don’t know that fire burns until we experience it first time or see someone else experience it or hear from someone (who has experienced it or seen it or heard it). Eventually we all learn to fear certain things out of experience (for a moment let’s ignore those who don’t do that even after enough experiences).

Courage, like many other virtues, is another misunderstood concept. Picking up fights with strangers in public is such courage. Getting into something without adequate preparation is such courage. Failing to gauge risks properly is out of such courage. Every anti-social element is an owner of such courage. All those who are behind bars today were born or brought up with such courage.

Courage is not just about winning every time, but is also about losing the right games. That’s when enemy loses focus. Crouching tigers are the most courageous creatures. You don’t have to sprint from the beginning in a marathon. You may have no energy left in the end. This is where tortoises win over rabbits. Losing a league match could be a strategy to win a knock-out match later.

Likewise, aggressiveness (the close cousin of courage) is okay as long as we stay in our comfort zone. When we come out to unknown places it becomes a problem. Thoughtless aggression with everyone only lands us in trouble. After getting into too many such troubles, I decided to stop being aggressive with aggressive people. :)

Although it was initially very tough to stomach failures of submitting to the mighty, I realized that submissive reactions did give me more peace of mind and more time to do better things eventually. To both the parties! Then I fell in love with the virtue of flexibility. Submissive behavior in glorified terms!

I remember the first Saturday as college student when an elder told me “standing up for what you think is right is a great character, but if you want to be peaceful in life, you have to bend in places where it is required and you have to salute people who expect it.”. It very clearly went into my head at that young age and the personality makeover started happening from that moment. From then on, every event and comment that I came across around aggressiveness versus flexibility attracted me and consumed a lot of my time in thinking about it at length.

Finally, when I met a friend who was more courageous and resolute than me in heart but very flexible in actions, I had to submit. I realized then that flexibility could earn more rewards than standing up straight for what we think is right. Because, when you stand up for the right, there is always a victim and you make an enemy every time. It’s just human to be on the wrong side at times, more so because what we think need not be the right thing always.

So, by standing up too often for silly issues, you end-up creating too many enemies and that gets all your roads filled with obstacles - stones, thorns and at times land mines. Then what would you achieve at the end of the day? Where will your energy and focus be spent? In achieving the end result or in managing the enemies and clearing off the obstacles thrown and planted by them?

That forced me to bring in some focus in life. Instead of fighting for everything that we think is right, it is better to narrow down on the most important things for which all the energy could be spent in fighting. If you want to achieve all your major goals, you have to compromise on smaller things. If you want bigger things like house and car, you have to compromise on weekly shoppings and weekend parties. Makes sense?

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