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Courage, Cowardice and Apathy

Updated on September 18, 2012

America has a short attention span. The evidence is there. In regards to historic tragedies, Americans tend to quickly forget the lessons being taught. Once the initial shock of an event, 9/11 for example, has worn off, collectively we continue living our lives as if it never happened. That is, all with the exception of those who lost friends, loved ones and lived through those horrifying, catastrophic days.

They have the memories forever seared into their memories. However, many watched from the safety of their homes and offices on TV as debris rained down from the World Trade Center and terrified occupants trapped inside leapt to their death. Somehow, that’s not the same as actually being there.

No one truly knows how they will respond in a given situation until it’s personally experienced. But there’s no doubt courage was a common virtue displayed by those responding on that fateful day. And without question, they will remember.

But, what about the rest of us…will we? How many are aware there was a memorial service at the New York Mills 9/11 Memorial on 9/11/2012? How many know there is a memorial at New York Mills, NY, and it also commemorates the 1993 World Trade Center bombing? Or how many know what's inside it? Inside the memorial are remnants of the calamity that rocked our nation, a steel slab from the World Trade Center, a chunk of the Pentagon and other haunting artifacts.

A famous writer once wrote something to the effect, those who forget history are doomed to repeat it. Don’t believe it? How many can recall who wrote it and without misquoting the statement, remember the actual quote? It has appeared in many different forms, but the earliest version is said to be that of the poet and philosopher George Santayana: "Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it," published in the early 1900s.

Courage, cowardice and apathy are descriptive words. Of the three, apathy is our biggest enemy. At least cowards recognize danger when they see it. Cowardice and apathy are relatively easy to define. But how do we define courage? That’s not as simple and there have been many who have tried. Some have said courage is acting without fear. Perhaps, but a better definition might be, acting in the face of fear.

William Ian Miller, a teacher at University of Michigan Law School wrote a book on courage, The Mystery of Courage (Harvard University Press, 2000). And even he calls it a mystery. Miller explains courage can be difficult to define and may be the most desirable, but messiest human virtue.

The first story in Miller’s book tells about "the good coward" during the Civil War. The soldier marches into every battle with resolute determination fully intending to do battle, but finds himself fleeing in terror at the first sign of bloodshed. When the carnage has ended he returns and prepares for the next battle, hoping to do better the next time. But unfortunately he consistently repeats the pattern. Desertion was punishable by death, but this soldier escaped that fate. "The coward was never punished," Miller says, because "categories like 'coward' are not so easy to fathom."

Indeed courage, likewise, is not easy to fathom. Many famous notables have attempted to explain it. Hopefully, recounting some of their quotes on the subject will give us a better understanding:

  • Courage is not the absence of fear, but rather the judgment that something else is more important than fear. ~Ambrose Redmoon
  • Courage is what it takes to stand up and speak; courage is also what it takes to sit down and listen. ~Winston Churchill
  • It is curious that physical courage should be so common in the world and moral courage so rare. ~Mark Twain
  • Courage is being afraid but going on anyhow. ~Dan Rather
  • Courage is doing what you're afraid to do. There can be no courage unless you're scared. ~Edward Vernon Rickenbacker
  • A coward is a hero with a wife, kids, and a mortgage. ~Marvin Kitman
  • Bravery is being the only one who knows you're afraid. ~Franklin P. Jones
  • Sometimes the biggest act of courage is a small one. ~Lauren Raffo
  • Some have been thought brave because they were afraid to run away. ~Thomas Fuller
  • Courage is not simply one of the virtues, but the form of every virtue at the testing point. ~C.S. Lewis
  • The courage of life is often a less dramatic spectacle than the courage of a final moment; but it is no less a magnificent mixture of triumph and tragedy. ~John F. Kennedy
  • One man with courage makes a majority. ~Andrew Jackson
  • Courage is the power to let go of the familiar. ~Raymond Lindquist


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    • teacherjoe52 profile image

      teacherjoe52 5 years ago

      Hi Jy.

      When confronted with the politically correct I almost always educate them in a respectful manner, that way most are more open to listening to you. Sometimes it is best to just keep our mouthes shut because it would be a waste of time.

      Great article.

      God bless you.

    • suzettenaples profile image

      Suzette Walker 5 years ago from Taos, NM

      Another excellent article. These really make the reader think and look inward. Very thought provoking. Well done and well written and something that need to be said.

    • JY3502 profile image

      John Young 5 years ago from Florence, South Carolina

      teacherjoe52, OK...then YOU go tell them. ;-)

      aviannovice , sounds like your a little out of breath there! he he

      Faith Reaper , I like that. Maybe I should add it to the list.

    • Faith Reaper profile image

      Faith Reaper 5 years ago from southern USA

      Excellent hub dear one. This reminds me of the church sign that I put up, and what I put on there was, "Courage is Fear that has said it's prayers." You are spot on with your opening lines here. Voted Way Up God bless. In His Love, Faith Reaper

    • aviannovice profile image

      Deb Hirt 5 years ago from Stillwater, OK

      Courage is the breath of life that keeps us doing what is right.

    • teacherjoe52 profile image

      teacherjoe52 5 years ago

      Hi JY.

      Indeed. Courage is doing what is right, even if you know you're going to get your but kicked.

      We need more of it in today's politically correct world.

      God bless you.

    • lj gonya profile image

      lj gonya 5 years ago

      Indeed we do have short memories, and worse yet, ever increasing low standards and low expectations when it comes to our politicians, our beliefs, and our future. As one who can make no claim to heroism or even day to day bravery, I have the highest admiration for all those who sacrifice their lives for others.