Thursday, March 31, 2011

courage and cowardice

Cowardice and courage trip lightly off the tongue. But when you get up-close-and-personal, when you look closely, it's like imagining you could grab the ocean with your hand. Or perhaps it's like the ever-popular "love" -- so easy to say, so silly to define.

I was thinking, I guess, about the fact that I too take the easy, assured and vaguely idiotic route of knowing what I thought is courageous or cowardly. Some segment of my brain actually believes this shit. Yes, I can make the argument that language is a liar and that people are social beings and use language as a way of reinforcing social ties. It's OK as far as it goes, but without the investigation ... well, I have been known to call that cowardly.

And as an adjunct, I honestly do admire as courageous those who make some effort to reflect, to pay attention and to take responsibility in their lives. I simply don't know a greater courage. Linguistically, to set up such a framework means that there are cowards who do not make some effort to reflect, to pay attention or to take responsibility. So there is a separation, a distinction, a this and a that. And sometimes it's all accompanied by a dollop of aggrieved righteousness.

But it's all a fool's errand, however cozy it may feel. Some people reflect. Some don't. Some people reflect deeply. Others do not. Some people have courage. Others do not. Some people are more courage than cowardice. Others are more cowardly than courageous. The further you take any of this line of thought, the harder it gets to draw the lines. It's not that things drift off into some smarmy relativism ... it's just hard to draw the lines.

I think it's lucky when the lines get harder to draw. Separation feels wrong because it, like oneness, is mistaken. But I also think we can take a lesson from the U.S. Supreme Court justice who observed about pornography, "I may not know what it is, but I know it when I see it."

Or, when times of confusion rise up, perhaps we can take a temporary break in the old serenity prayer:

God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change,
The courage to change the things I can,
And wisdom to know the difference.
Of course there is something to be said for setting aside the differences.

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