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Being a braveheart

Silhouette of a man jumping over abyss at sunset with copy space

Silhouette of a man jumping over abyss at sunset with copy space  

Courage calls for taking risks, feeling fear and aiming at an honourable outcome

We live in a society fascinated by courage and celebrates bravery, with children raised on a diet of heroic stories. In Plato’s Laches, Socrates defines courage broadly, to encompass even everyday activities. On the other hand, Aristotle in Nicomachean Ethics confines courage to valour in the battlefield.

What does it mean to be “brave”? How many meanings the word has, because there is more than one, and I wonder which of those descriptions should win. People use the word brave in contexts such as valour on the battlefield, surviving an illness or misfortune, doing something out of character, putting everything on the line, speaking out against injustice at a great personal risk, taking financial risks to pursue dreams, and performing superhuman feats on the sporting arena. All of these require some form of courage. What is the underlying behavioural pattern in these examples? Above all, why is this virtue important today? If you closely examine all of the above examples you will find three chief ingredients: the element of risk; feeling fear or apprehension; and aiming at an honourable outcome.

The first criterion measures the enormity of the danger, the second describes the emotional state of the person and the third examines the intended outcome of the deed.

The doer realises and appreciates the risks of failure; yet do it. Proficiency that is deployed to overcome the risks involved does not constitute bravery. It’s the subjective judgment that the doer makes about the characteristics and the severity of the risk that constitutes bravery.

A person should necessarily experience fear or apprehension before the brave act. She should neither be motivated by feelings of anger nor by a quest for thrill.

Not entirely altruistic

The doer should hope to accomplish something honourable. An honourable outcome need not necessarily be entirely altruistic. But if the outcome does not benefit the self, the deed is higher on the “purity” scale. The more one stands to gain from the outcome, the more the endeavour is akin to gambling, and therefore does not constitute bravery.

Dishonourable ends should never be described as brave even if it fulfils the first two criteria faultlessly.

preetam@nerdom.com

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Printable version | Jul 11, 2020 3:19:58 PM | https://www.thehindu.com/opinion/open-page/being-a-braveheart/article31709122.ece

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