It’s not exactly what I thought it was. It’s not what the Cowardly Lion thought it was. (And, for what it’s worth, it’s not even exactly what the Wizard said it was, either, when he implied that running away from danger was wisdom.)
Even the dictionaries aren’t consistent on courage. Dictionary.com lists courage as “the quality of mind or spirit that enables a person to face difficulty, danger, pain, etc., without fear; bravery,” while the OED’s version defines courage as “the ability to do something that frightens one; bravery.”
Notice the difference? In the first definition, courage is doing something “without fear.” In the second, it’s doing something despite being afraid.
I’ve been eyeball-deep in the findings of Brené Brown lately, a social worker and researcher who’s been spending years studying courage, vulnerability, shame, and wholeheartedness. It wasn’t initially what she started out to do, and she ended up completely changing her whole perspective on what courage really is. It’s definitely opened my eyes to a few things. Hint: real courage is about being open. Sound counterintuitive? You’re not the only one.
This exploration has had enough of an impact on me that I’m going to keep this post short, for fear of getting a little wordy with admiration, but I’ll point you to her two talks on TED.com, which she gave several years apart. You can find them here and here. They’re really quite stellar, and they are an entertaining, sincere and fascinating snapshot into how she learned (through bona fide research) that courage is inextricably linked with vulnerability—something that surprised (and terrified) her more than she expected. Her most recent book, Daring Greatly, is a great place to start if you’re looking for a good book to pick up. (Although I am also a huge fan of I Thought It Was Just Me (But it Isn’t), which is a fascinating and practical look into perfectionism—which is also an interesting counterpoint to the traditional definition.)
And so. What makes the muskrat guard his musk? It’s still courage—it’s just not what I thought it was.