Courage: Teaching myself to be brave

Earhart_and_electra.jpeg

 

Courage is the price that Life exacts for granting peace.

The soul that knows it not
Knows no release from little things:
Knows not the livid loneliness of fear,
Nor mountain heights where bitter joy can hear the sound of wings.

Nor can life grant us boon of living, compensate
For dull gray ugliness and pregnant hate
Unless we dare
The soul’s dominion.
Each time we make a choice, we pay
With courage to behold the resistless day, And count it fair.

 

Amelia Earhart

 

Amelia Earhart wrote these words in her twenties, while she was still in college. She had yet to do all the amazing things she did later. This poem is a great reminder of not only what it takes to be courageous, but also why we should be brave, and what our lives are like without courage.

“Daring the soul’s dominion” means, to me, that brave act of choosing how we wish to feel and doing what we wish to do, guided by our minds, rather than surrendering to the tyranny of our emotions. It also means that we must be brave enough to make a choice and face the results, come what may.

With the final line, I think that it also can take courage to face troubles and worries and fears, and yet think that the day will be a good one. Being positive is, after all, a good choice.

I wrote this couplet when I was in flight school, in the same vein:

 

Each day is a good day because it’s a day not a night,

each flight is a good flight.

Amelia: not just another Airhead!

It’s become fashionable in some circles to remember Amelia Earhart as a somewhat flaky, irresponsible aviatrix who is mostly famous because she got lost. She is often portrayed in movies and books as somewhat irresponsible, even a dilettante.

This is far from the truth. Amelia Earhart was a tireless champion of women’s rights. She wasn’t just about flying, either. She constantly tried to help young women enter fields of math, science, engineering, and other traditionally male dominated roles. She studied hard in school, tried to learn as much science as she could, and even picked a high school based on the science programs available there. She earned most of the money for her flying career and took many jobs, sometimes two or three at a time, to pay for it.

She worked as a nurse’s aide during the aftermath of world war I, she worked for the phone company at one point, she drove a gravel truck, she was an author, she worked as a social worker in a settlement house as well as many other jobs. At one point she drove across the country in a two seat sports car at a time before the interstate system was even in place. She learned to fly multiengine aircraft, set numerous records, and flew a type of aircraft called an autogyro across the country as well.

Once, she was in position to win an air race but another pilot had cracked up their airplane. Instead of continuing on to win, she saved the other pilot’s live and then got back in the air to win second place. She was more interested in doing the right thing than winning the prize money.

She got together with Charles Lindbergh, and started America’s first airline, TAT. It went through many evolutions and name changes and eventually became Delta Airlines.

Yes, Amelia took advantage of publicity. She used it as a tool to try to advance the cause of women. She did some stunt flying for fun, and some to prove that women could. She supported other female pilots and helped create an organization for them, called the 99s. She encouraged people to follow their dreams and not be limited by their sex or social position.

She wasn’t the best pilot, nor did she claim to be. She loved what she did and she wanted other people to love what they did, too. The more I have learned about her, the more inspired I have become. She didn’t hold herself above people or claim to be the greatest, instead she tried to inspire people so that they could join her in the sky.

 

What does Courage really mean?

 

It takes more than running from a fight to make a coward. It can also mean avoiding confrontation of any kind, or avoiding competition at all costs.  It can mean never taking a risk, not speaking your mind, or never improving what you do.

For example, I have always been inclined to avoid competition, mostly because I believed I would always lose and I couldn’t handle defeat. What I never admitted to myself is that it makes me a coward. I kidded myself into thinking I was not a coward because I didn’t get into fights, so how else could I show my bravery?  I conveniently forgot that I never competed, played dirty tricks when I argued, and at the final test of bravery, when mastering my fear would have given me my pilot’s license, I failed there too. Sure, there were other factors, but social anxiety was my downfall.  It’s no excuse, because as a sapient being I should have been able to override it.

I’m not trying to whine here, nor beat myself up, but rather use my experience as an example to help make my point.

Knowing this about myself, where do I go from here, or where does another person go who has the same realization?  After all, modern society encourages cowardice.  How do we turn that around?

First, it’s important to recognize that fear doesn’t have to be in control.

We all have the ability to choose our actions no matter what our emotion is.

Bravery is a habit that can be built.

We can start small, build confidence, and move from there.

This takes practice and failure is not a reason to quit trying.  If we keep trying, embrace our fears and move through them, we can start to win more often, until we win all the time.

There’s good news, though! Cowardice is not a life sentence, we can free ourselves at any time.

 

I’ll finish here with one of my favorite poems.

 

Courage

Courage is the price which life exacts for granting peace.
The soul that knows it not, knows no release
From little things;

Knows not the livid loneliness of fear
Nor mountain heights, where bitter joy you can hear
The sound of wings.

How can life grant us boon of living, compensate,
For dull gray ugliness and pregnant hate
Unless we dare

The soul’s dominion? Each time we make a choice we pay
With courage to behold resistless day
And count it fair.

-Amelia Earhart