Courage: Teaching myself to be brave



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.

Intelligence versus physical strength

For a long time I’ve had this semi-conscious thought that if you are intelligent or sensitive you cannot be strong, and if you are very strong you will have less time for intellectual pursuits. An article I read recently turned that upside down and I started looking at why I thought that way.

For me at least, the idea came from popular culture – but it also came from a source that might be a little unusual, ant that is role playing games. It started with the popularity of Dungeons and Dragons. I have a lot of fun with that game and others like it, however some of the central ideas deserve some consideration. with D&D, if you are a Fighter of whatever type, you often have a very high Strength score for obvious reasons. But if you are a Wizard or other magic user, your Intelligence and sometimes Wisdom scores will be high but you take penalties on Strength. The idea is to preserve game balance by making no one character good at everything.

This is great for game balance but not good for life. In reality, developing your body can also develop your mind and give you focus and clarity. Developing your mind can give you the mental strength and fortitude to grow physically strong. Winston Churchill started out as a sickly, intelligent and sensitive boy, who resolved to become a strong and athletic man. Though he grew a little portly in later years, he succeeded. He became a sought after athlete and then a soldier.

Going back to my fantasy roots, one author really understood the balance between strength and intelligence. Barbara Hambly, in her Darwoth books, showed that to become a Wizard, a master of mighty magic, you needed to not only have a great thirst for knowledge, but you also needed to be very physically strong and hardy. Her Wizard, Ingold Inglorian, was very good with the sword as well as the staff even though he was also mentally brilliant.

After this consideration, I think I’m going to be more careful of false dichotomies. Rather than being mutually exclusive, intelligence and physical strength enhance one another.

Notes: D&D may have gotten me to think that strength and intelligence are mutually exclusive, that you cannot be strong and highly intelligent at the same time, because of their idea of game balance. Far better to think in a Darwothian way and realize that strength enhances intelligence by stimulating the mind, and vice versa.