What is Courage?

During the Indianapolis 500 television coverage on May 30th, the broadcasters brought up the subject of courage. They spoke about the courage drivers must have to race at 230 miles per hour in close proximity to other cars and the oval track walls.

That statement made me think about courage, what courage entails, and who we should consider courageous.

Race car drivers are a separate breed from football, baseball, basketball, golf, hockey, or tennis athletes.

Nobody has died putting, scoring a touchdown, hitting a homer, or striking a tennis ball.

Drivers have perished on racetracks. The entire sports industry mourned when NASCAR’s Dale Earnhardt, Sr. died during the 2001 Daytona 500.

Scott Brayton, died during practice for the 1996 Indy 500. Greg Moore, Justin Wilson, and Dan Wheldon died on other tracks.

They died participating in a sport. What is essentially entertainment. They received huge salaries. They took risks to win trophies and monetary purses.

Did they have courage? Granted it takes cajones, if you will, to drive a machine at the limits of its performance, at over 230 miles per hour, hoping that none of the moving parts fail, and live to tell the tale.

Can we put these drivers in the same category as the military service members who we honor on Memorial Day weekend when the Indy 500 occurs? How do we compare those brave souls who gave their lives for our freedom to race car drivers?

Is it the same courage?

What about the thousands of young men who were drafted during the Vietnam War? Did they have courage? Many were scared silly to go to war.

What about women who face severe complications delivering a child. Are mothers who face hours of labor courageous?

Is that the same courage as the Indy drivers going in circles for 500 miles?

What about astronauts who ride rockets into space in the name of exploration and national glory? We have lost seventeen in accidents—Apollo 1, Challenger, and Columbia—proving how risky and unforgiving space exploration can be. Are they courageous?

What about you—the police officer? Does it take courage for you to climb into your shop and chase crooks who might try to kill you? Courage for you to run to danger when everyone else is fleeing?

What constitutes courage in our society?

Webster’s dictionary defines courage as “the attitude of facing and dealing with anything recognized as dangerous, difficult, or painful, instead of withdrawing from it. Quality of being fearless or brave; valor. Courage to do what one thinks is right. The mental or moral strength to venture, persevere, and withstand danger, fear, or difficulty.”

American Heritage Dictionary defines courage as the “quality of mind that enables one to face danger.”

The word courage comes from Latin “cor” for heart or spirit, Old French word “corage”, and the Middle English version as denoting heart as the seat of feelings. Some say the origins go back even further to when courage meant “to speak one’s mind by telling all one’s heart.”

Race car drivers secure multimillion dollar contracts. Before the pandemic, 250,000 fans attended the Indy 500 touted as “the greatest spectacle in racing.” Fans flock to drivers to obtain autographs and photos. Fans cheer each lap and celebrate the winner.

You, the cop on the beat, work extra jobs to make ends meet. No one cheers when a cop puts a violent criminal in jail except for maybe the victim or the victim’s family. You get called a pig. Spit on. And on many occasions have to fight for your life. No one asks for your autograph after you made an arrest or caught a burglar before they could strike. No one waits in line for hours to take a photo with you to post on social media after you take a drunk driver off the road.

Every day officers’ acts of courage are recorded on body cameras. Videos that never get aired on broadcast TV or posted on the Internet.

How about the courage that it takes for any sane human being to want to be an officer in this climate of anti-police rhetoric from politicians, activists, and the press? The courage it takes to police during a time when people protest and call for reform and defunding when they have no clue what it’s like to be a cop.

Are all acts of courage on the same level?

Is driving a race car on the same level as the cop who arrives first on an active shooter scene and engages without backup to stop the threat before more innocent lives are lost?

How do we define and compare acts that individually meet the dictionary definition of courage?

Like beauty, courage must lie in the eye of the beholder.

Perhaps General Douglas MacArther had the best definition. He said, “If bravery is a quality which knows not fear, then I have never seen a brave man. For the courageous man is the man who, in spite of his fear, forces himself to carry on.”

What he stated is what cops do everyday.

It takes courage to work a beat. Everyday you sign on for duty you have displayed immense courage. Because you don’t know what you’ll face that day. Or, whether you will go home at the end of your shift alive or facing indictment.

In my opinion, that is the definition of courage.


Copyright©2021 Barbara A. Schwartz  All Rights Reserved.

No part of this article may be reproduced in any manner without the expressed written consent of the author.

Barbara A. Schwartz has dedicated her life to supporting and writing about the brave officers of law enforcement because police officers have always been her heroes. Her involvement with HPOU spans 26 years.