Saturday, September 5, 2009

Is courage worth it?

WARNING: For this post, I am going to conflate non-conformity and courage. I recognize that they are not the same thing. But they do share certain features and I am in the mood to conflate. If you are allergic to conflation, please consult your philosophy professional before reading this post.

The question posed in the title of this post is something I have been grappling with personally and professionally for some months now. In my life I have seen ample evidence of Emerson's comment that "for nonconformity the world whips you with its displeasure." I have felt the sting of that whip many times. And lately it has got me wondering whether it's worth it.

After my two recent posts about change (see the most recent one here), I wanted to write about courage. Specifically, I wanted to exhort and encourage my tiny readership to act with courage in their lives.

But now I'm not so sure. I wonder if it's worth it.

On the one hand, courage is so badly needed in order to produce the revolutionary change I discussed in my last post on change. Someone must have the ability and willingness to challenge the prevailing order and produce the ideas that will illuminate the future.

On the other hand, there is that whipping.

So I don't know.

But it seems to me that those who are non-conformists, who are courageous just don't have a choice. I would imagine that the soldier that jumps on a grenade does so not out of a careful consideration of the relative merits of maintaining his own life versus preserving the lives of others, but simply because he cannot help himself. The thought of not saving the lives of his comrades is just not part of the package for him.

In a much smaller way, I think about myself. I feel that my life would be so much easier if I just went along. If I thought as others did, felt what they felt and acted as they act. But then I think about that life. It feels very much akin to what Thoreau meant when he wrote that "the mass of men lead lives of quiet desperation." I cannot really imagine living that life. I cannot imagine being happy without the ability to imagine a different world and attempting to bring it into existence.

What scares me about that is that I see a lifetime of whipping. It was much easier to take as a 20 year old. It's starting to hurt as a soon to be 40 year old.

No comments: