Posted in Being human, Blogging about blogging, Days of the Week, fear, Friday / vendredi / viernes / fredag / Frietag, Topic Themes

Fear for Courage Friday

In Life’s name and for Life’s sake, I assert that I will employ the Art which is its gift in Life’s service alone, rejecting all other usages. I will guard growth and ease pain. I will fight to preserve what grows and lives well in its own way; and I will change no object or creature unless its growth and life, or that of the system of which it is part, are threatened. To these ends, in the practice of my Art, I will put aside fear for courage, and death for life, when it is right to do so — till Universe’s end.

Wizard’s Oath from Diane Duane’s Young Wizards and Feline Wizards series.
fear for courage Friday
Fear for Courage Friday

…To these ends, in the practice of my Art, I will put aside fear for courage…

Wizard’s Oath

This is a Friday topic about facing fear.

Many people who know me have compared me to Neville Longbottom. In that, like me, he started out timid and afraid of everything. But by the end of the series, he’s faced up to so many of his fears that he commits feats of extreme courage. Including deliberately facing the Cruciatus Curse, a spell that had been used in the past to torture Neville’s parents until they couldn’t function anymore. He faces up to his worst fears and then some to protect other children — and adults, but especially other schoolkids — from Voldemort’s followers.

Gryffindors like Neville are known for their courage, but people from any House can be courageous. And I’d argue that the different Houses emphasize courage in different ways, and different aspects of courage, although any kid from any House can of course have any kind of courage for any reason. The kind of courage Neville shows — putting himself into terrifying situations in order to protect others — is both emphasized in Gryffindor and Hufflepuff. Like Neville, I have a lot of traits of both Gryffindor and Hufflepuff and I do identify a lot with his character.

Part of all these new blogging ideas have to do with facing my own fears. So having one of the Friday topics be facing fear makes sense.

Mind you, fear isn’t bad in and of itself. But there’s allowing fear to guide you by giving you information, and then there’s having your entire life dominated by fear. And I don’t want my entire life dominated by fear.

I have a friend who says she chooses one new brave thing to do every day, and then does it. That would sound like an exercise from a self-help book without the background knowledge that my friend came out as bisexual and soon thereafter as a trans woman in the wake of the Orlando shootings. She isn’t screwing around, she knows what’s at stake, and she knows she wants to put herself out there both for her own sake and that of others. She doesn’t want to live her life in hiding. I had a similar reaction to those shootings, like I wanted to be more visible despite the danger. For many reasons, too complicated to explain if you don’t understand already.

When my father was dying of cancer, he said that dying of cancer was his worst fear. We talked about dealing with fear of death and dying. And I said that as far as I could tell, the only thing to make a difference to deal with that kind of fear is to find the deepest form of love — a property of the universe, not an emotion, in this case — and follow it wherever it goes.

My father took that advice and ran so far with it that my only fear is I’ll never be able to live up to his example. He died well, and bravely, and with love.

I have a few friends whose courage has been making national news with everything ADAPT is doing to try to secure rights for disabled people in America right now. It makes me proud to even be able to think to myself, “I know these heroes personally…” and not have it be some sort of inspiration porn thing.

Another friend graduated from college as a nonspeaking person with developmental disabilities and made a movie about it. Which anyone who’s been even just the first in their family to go to college knows is gruelingly difficult and full of new fears to face every day.

Honestly one of my fears is that I’ll never be as brave as so many of my friends and family and people I’ve known. I know a lot of really tough-as-nails people. But suffice to say I know a lot of really brave people and I hope it rubs off on me Neville-style. Unlike Neville I think I’m genuinely a Hufflepuff deep down, but courage isn’t just a Gryffindor thing.

But at any rate, this is the Friday topic for anything regarding fear, courage, facing fears, and things of that nature. Hopefully I’ll eventually have things to fill it up with.

My friend suggested that writing about my fears is itself a brave thing to do that can benefit other people. I think she is probably right.

fear for courage Friday
Fear for Courage Friday

Posted in Values & Ethics

Valour without renown.

Painting of Éowyn and Aragorn from Lord of the Rings.

“A time may come soon,” said he, “when none may return.  Then there will be need of valour without renown, for none shall remember the deeds that are done in the last defence of your homes.  Yet the deeds will not be less valiant because they are unpraised.”

J.R.R. Tolkien. The Lord of the Rings (p. 784). Harper Collins, Inc.. Kindle Edition.

I am taking this quote entirely out of context, because the words valour without renown have been floating around my head a lot in recent years without context, and finding their own context within the world I find myself living in.  So don’t expect literary analysis here, nor any take on these words other than my own.  Which is both larger and smaller in scope than the original context.

Valour without renown seems on the face of it to be talking about courage — possibly especially battle-courage — without outward recognition, without going down in history, possibly even without a history existing to go down in.  And that is one piece of it, one way it can happen.  In a broader sense you could talk about courage in general, without praise in general.

But there’s one thing that this keeps distilling itself down to for me, with diamond-like precision and clarity.

It’s doing what is the right thing to do without any reason or incentive other than it being the right thing to do. Not just courage, but any right thing.  Not just recognition, but any sort of outward motivation, or any expectation of reward of any kind.

This is both simpler and more complicated than it sounds.  The hardest thing you can do but from some perspectives, easier than many of the alternatives.  Easy to describe in three words, and impossible to describe even if you had infinite words.  Not contradictory at all, yet good at producing sentences like these ones when you try to approach it wielding language.1

It’s also one of the most important things any of us can learn right now.

Then there will be need of valour without renown… Yet the deeds will not be less valiant because they are unpraised.

J.R.R. Tolkien. The Lord of the Rings (p. 784). Harper Collins, Inc.. Kindle Edition.

It’s no secret that the world is extremely messed up at the moment.

And my friends and I, we’ve all been noticing patterns in how it is messed up.  Patterns that we have trouble putting into words.  My friend’s cat has cancer right now, so maybe it’s for that reason that the word malignant comes to mind so strongly.  Or malevolent, or just plain evil.  As in, things that feel more like there’s a whole pattern of nasty forms of intent behind them than, say, random forces of nature seem to have, no matter how brutal.

And most of us are at a loss as to not only how to describe such a thing, but what to do about it.

One fortunate thing about the world is how many and varied the things within it are.  People alone make up billions of variations on those things, and there’s lots of things in the world besides people.  For each one of us, at any given time, there are many good things we can do for the world, and many possible ways to go about doing those things.  Some may be better things, and better ways, than others.  But which one is the best choice varies based on timing, context, person, and every possible way the situation can vary.  Sometimes there are more choices than others, sometimes there seem to be few or no choices, sometimes all the choices have terrible consequences.

But there are always many ways to do the right thing.  And each one of us can be a part of doing that.  Sometimes it’s something seemingly tiny and insignificant.  Sometimes it’s something seemingly huge and obvious.  Sometimes it’s both, sometimes neither.  And almost always, in any situation, there are many choices.

And telling right from wrong is rarely as easy as stories make it out to be.  And very few things are all right or all wrong.  And in very few cases do we learn the full consequences of our actions, either at the time or even in hindsight.

But we still should be making the effort.  In times like these more than any.

I’ve talked about this before from time to time.  Mostly in the context of death.  Personal death, death of a culture, death of a species.  But death.  Destruction.  Even the “end of the world,” as most people see it.  Situations that seem hopeless.  Where it’s tempting to say that trying to do the right thing is pointless.

It’s at those times that doing the right thing may matter more than any other time.

If the way you treat someone right now matters, it matters just as much when you are thinking about the fact that one day both you and the other person will be long dead and nobody living remembers either of you.  It may matter even more knowing that.  So why is it that when people think of ‘hopeless’ scenarios, they think that what they do doesn’t matter in light of their own death or the extinction of their species or some other large or small catastrophe? 

To me, it matters more, it always matters more, knowing we won’t always be around.  There’s always a responsibility to other people in the now, even if history as we know it ends tomorrow.  There’s always a responsibility to the people and things that come after history as we know it ends. 

Because the world is made up of so much more than ourselves alone.  And the world functions as all of us acting on each other.  Not isolated people or cultures or species floating around as individuals with no effect on the world around us.  What we do always matters whether other human beings ever seem to notice or care.

And that’s just one tiny piece of why this ‘valour without renown’ thing matters so much.  It’s the part I’ve described the most before, the part I have the easiest time putting into words.  And that part isn’t easy to put into words.

One of the most important things we can learn is to be motivated enough that if it ever comes down to it, we can choose to do a very difficult right thing to do, utterly regardless of what reaction the world around us appears to have to it. 

Sometimes it’s difficult because it’s something huge and scary.  But sometimes it’s difficult because it’s something seemingly small and insignificant when we’d rather make a grand gesture of some kind.  Sometimes it’s difficult because there are so many right things to do it’s hard to know which one to choose.  Sometimes it’s difficult because it’s hard to tell what the right thing is, or even if there’s anything you can do that’s right enough to do it.  Sometimes it’s difficult because it feels like doing nothing, even though refraining from action can be just as significant and important as acting, sometimes.  Many things can make it difficult.  But everything makes it worthwhile to try.

And trying is the most any of us can promise, I think.  We can say we’d do the right thing, but until we’re in the situation, we don’t know what obstacles we’ll be up against, from within and without.  We don’t even know if we’ll be aware we’re in that kind of situation at the time.

But we can try.

We can make the effort.

That’s all we can do.

And that’s doing a lot.

But hard times, times that people think of as hopeless, those are the times when we all need to be thinking about how to figure out a right thing we can do, and do it to the best of our ability.  Regardless of outward consequences.  A lot more depends on that than people sometimes realize.

And that’s actually a good thing.

Believe it or not.


1The Tao Te Ching sums this kind of thing up pretty well:

The bright path seems dim;
Going forward seems like retreat;
The easy way seems hard;
The highest Virtue seems empty;
Great purity seems sullied;
A wealth of Virtue seems inadequate;
The strength of Virtue seems frail,
Real Virtue seems unreal;
The perfect square has no corners;
Great talents ripen late;
The highest notes are hard to hear;
The greatest form has no shape.

Lao Tzu, Tao Te Ching, translated by Gia-Fu Feng & Jane English