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What Is Courage?

February 25, 2022
St. Sophia Cathedral, Kiev (Kyiv), 1905. Built in the 11th century, it was named for the patron saint of wisdom.

In these strange days, we have seen profoundly real demonstrations of courage. We’ve seen courage on the streets, bridges and small-town lanes of Ukraine, where a besieged people fight for their lives. We’ve seen it in the squares of Russia, where people of conscience risk their livelihood and freedom to speak out against the aggression and absurd deceptions of their leaders. We’ve seen it in the earnest words of everyday people, Ukrainian and Russian, who say no to Putin’s war.

It seems peevish for me, in the face of the profound history being written around us, to contrast this real courage with the way we have debased the word in our popular culture. But it’s worth saying, because words matter: Courage is a moral category, not an empty measure of poor risk assessment. Courage means something because it is on behalf of something that has meaning: the protection of loved ones, the wellbeing of strangers, the quest for mutual and respectful liberties of conscience, speech, assembly, movement, and body.

Courage is not cryptic. Courage is not a linguistically empty sign to be reassigned new meaning based on the needs of advertisers and spin-doctors. Courage is not a campaign sticker or a rhetorical shiv with which to cut anyone who dares to deliberate. Courage is not the opposite of orderly thought but the result of it. One can only have resolve as the result of having resolved hard questions in the heart and mind. Shakespeare did not write the St. Crispin’s Day speech on behalf of hyperventillating neocons and cryptocurrency traders.

And, on that last point, keep in mind that when Matt Damon tells you that fortune favors the brave, what he’s advocating, in this fraught moment in global history, is that fortune favors the ability of international criminals to hide their fortunes from global sanctions.

So here’s to real courage, and to the better angels of our nature, and to the difficult hope that makes all good things possible. #нетвойне

Greg Blake Miller

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