Friday, January 28, 2005

Finding Courage

When the Famicom (a.k.a. Family Computer) or NES (Nintendo Entertainment System) first came out in the 1980s, one of the most popular games released by Nintendo was The Legend of Zelda. It was revolutionary for its time, and one of the concepts I liked about it was the idea of the triforce. The triforce was comprised of three triangles (I'd say pyramid but the graphics was still 2D at the time), each one representing a virtue: power, courage, and wisdom. The bad guy had the triforce of power. The hero, Link, had the triforce of courage. Later in the series, he'd eventually get the triforce of wisdom, and eventually, the triforce of power as well. Now some people might tell me it's just a game. That may be true. Yet the triforce hearkens to my soul. Why did Link start out with the triforce of courage and not wisdom? Is it really possible that through courage, one can seize power from the big, bad overlord?

Many of us have our own perceptions of what it is to possess courage. For some people, it might mean conquering your fears. For others, it could be doing stuff you don't want to do. Or laying your life down for others. Or sacrificing your life. Or standing up for what you believe in. No matter what your concept of courage is, it's always something positive. But so is the concept of wisdom. And sometimes, power as well. There are also a dozen other virtues out there. Yet why does courage stand out before the rest, or at least why is it so important?

Let's first look at power. I don't think power is really a virtue. It's neutral. Depending on who you ask, power has a different meaning. But most of them don't mind having power. Some might shun it, thinking that it can corrupt them, or believing that they are unworthy of it. Well, I honestly don't think it can corrupt people, at least to the extent that most people think. Power (whether it's wealth, authority, or even freedom) simply magnifies who you are: if you are a good person, you can use power to do good. If you're a selfish person, then giving you more power will only make your selfishness more evident. Perhaps the only difference between a powerless person and a powerful person is that the latter has more options in life. Sometimes, our inner greed isn't apparent simply because we either didn't have the option to do so before, or there were drastic consequences if we had acted in such a manner. As for those believing that they are unworthy of power, well, it depends on the person. If you underestimate yourself too much, then you'll never reach your full potential. If you rate your skills too poorly, you'll never amount to much, because you'll never stretch yourself to your limits and you'll never grow. You can also rate yourself too high if shunning power is really your way of showing false humility. There are drastic consequences when you overestimate yourself. One of the more common stories I hear from people who go to the gym is that on their first day, they lift more weights than they should because they thought that they could do more. What results is that they strain their muscles too much and are in pain for several days. For me, personal assessment is akin to the laws of supply and demand: one seeks equilibrium. Too much demand and prices rise. Too little demand and prices fall. In a certain way, it's easier to help the person who overestimates himself. It costs him his pride, but all he has to do is tone down his expectations of himself until he reaches the point where he operates at optimum efficiency. The person who underestimates himself, on the other hand, will perhaps have the more difficult time. On one hand, he should take pride in the fact that he could do more. But there's something he has to have in order to take that first step in doing more than what he's used to. What I'm talking about is courage. It takes courage for a person to accept more power, it takes courage for a man to go beyond what he thinks he's capable of. Don't get me wrong, it also takes courage for a person to swallow his pride and take on less responsibility than he thinks he's capable of. But one can't deny that it also takes courage to keep on taking steps to obtain power, whatever that may be for you.

Next there's wisdom. Some people call it knowledge, or intelligence, or insight. For me, wisdom is simply knowing what to do. Whatever it maybe, unlike power, you can never have too much of it. In the case of the person who is offered power, wisdom might take the form of knowing whether you're being given too much power, just enough, or too little. Yet as useful as that may be, it's useless if you don't act on it. Even until college, when the teacher asked a question that I knew the answer to, I won't always raise my hand. I hesitate because I think of the possibility of being wrong, hence embarrassing myself in class if I made a mistake. What's the difference between the times I raised my hand and when I didn’t? You guessed it, courage. Not that I always get it correct. Sometimes, I do embarrass myself in front of the class. But you know what, by the very fact that I attempted to answer the question and mentioned what I thought the correct answer was, I got corrected. And that's when I gain more wisdom. Because what I thought was right was actually wrong and it was brought to my attention. For me, wisdom and courage often went together. I mean it takes courage to search for wisdom. For example, if you did something that you were unsure of was wrong or right, one would be tempted not to look for the right answer. At least in uncertainty, you had a 50/50 chance of possessing the moral high ground, and you had the ultimate scapegoat, which is saying "I didn't know". But searching for the right answer, ah, that's more difficult. Because not only do you expend your energy searching for the right answer, you must also accept the possibility of being wrong. And when you do realize you are wrong, what do you do next? Most of the steps in acquiring wisdom involves courage. And similarly, wisdom is reduced to plain knowledge if you don't act on it. Yet on the other hand, without wisdom, even your most courageous acts will seem like folly to most people. A person who runs into a burning building without a plan (or know who to save and how to get out) is foolish since it's almost identical to suicide. The person had good intentions, no doubt, but the people watching him burn wouldn’t know that. But if the person had an escape plan and managed to rescue a few people, then he'd be a hero, even if it costs him his life. Here, we see wisdom and courage in tandem.

There are also other virtues like temperance, fortitude, and justice. Well, one can't enact temperance without courage. The same goes for justice. Fortitude simply entails not only possessing courage but maintaining it as well. In Buddhism, there's also realizing your true self, eternity, happiness, and purity. It takes a combination of wisdom and courage to actualize all of these. So to me, it seems like courage revolves around the virtues. Yet knowing all this is like possessing wisdom: we know what we should do. But the question is, what do we do about it? In a way, it's like smoking. No one believes that smoking is good for your health. Yet a significant number of the population does it. And they're actually killing themselves (and those around them) slowly. To me, that's possessing wisdom without courage. And in certain ways, it’s worse than being ignorant and doing something wrong because you didn't know any better. That's probably one of the reasons why Jesus in the Bible was so aggressive about missionary work and preaching: if you told people about the Good News, then the reason they're not saved isn't your burden; but if they haven't heard it, then part of the blame is upon you, the people who have heard the Good News and didn't share it. Which is why I must ask, how does one find courage?

Well, I can assure you no one is born 100% courageous. I say that because everyone fears something, everyone has a weakness or two. Yet there's something in these people that enabled them to overcome this limitation. Name me a profession which you think requires courage: military officer, teachers, missionaries, actors/actresses. Sounds like a bunch of brave people, right? Well, I don't think all military officers were born brave. But I can bet you all of them have a certain need, which is why they joined the army. Maybe it's a desire to support their families at home, or to protect their homeland, or to just earn money. These reasons are what drives them to conquer their fears and go beyond what they think they can do. The same goes for teachers. Do you think teachers aren't shy? I knew a teacher who talks to a wall as a way to practice and calm herself before a class. Is she afraid and tense? Yes. What drives her to go on teaching? I don't know. Maybe she thinks its her calling. Or maybe she realizes the good she can do with her work, and continues nonetheless despite her inner doubts. And missionaries? For all its perks, missionaries also endure a lot of hardship, whether its entering unknown territory, moving when you've just grown attached to a place, or simply being in danger from those opposed against your belief. And I don't think they honestly get financially compensated enough for those kinds of predicaments. Yet they go on, because their cause is something they believe in, something they feel they must do. Believe it or not, actors and actresses get star struck as well. I just saw Jennifer Love Hewitt a few days ago at Conan O’Brien’s talk show and she narrated at how frantic she was when she met Catherine Zeta Jones. Actors do get frightened. And I'm sure that on their first live performance, they were tense as well. Yet they manage to get over it. There's something that drives them to do so.

I think my main point is that even if you're a regular Joe, you're also capable of displaying courage. It doesn't take a unique and special person to be a courageous person. One merely needs to dig deep down within himself/herself and realize one's motivations in life. Sometimes, that's enough. If you're a parent, you probably won't walk on a tightrope, but if your child was on the other end, you'd probably risk your life to save the life of your child. If you have a dream, that dream might be worth sacrificing your time and effort and enable you to go out of your comfort zone. If you belong to a team, responsibility and duty for the team might give you the courage to do what you must do rather than what you think you want. What's the secret of the triforce? It's uniting courage and wisdom to obtain power. Realizing your innermost desires, your motivations in life, takes wisdom. Acting on those dreams takes courage. And when you synthesize both, you acquire power. Power to realize more of you self, and power to do more than you previously could.

No comments: