Some Thoughts on the Meaning of Courage

About two months ago I got hit by a car. It slammed into my lower right leg and snapped the tibia and fibula bones inside like the twigs they are. Then the car drove away, and despite the presence of witnesses, it is unlikely its driver will ever be caught.

I always knew that it was possible for something like this to happen to me, but I also knew it was unlikely. And that knowledge was enough for me to be slightly incautious. I almost always crossed the street in crosswalks, and only when I had the right of way, and that was what I did on the night I got hit, too. But I didn't do everything possible to avoid putting myself in the path of a moving car. Because that would have been hard, and I had other things to think about. And because I trusted in the likelihood that I would be okay.

Donald Trump is the 45th President-elect of the United States. So I've been thinking about the belief that things will be okay, and the reality that they might not be, a lot lately. I didn't want him to be the President, because I feared he might do permanent harm to my country, in much the same way that I didn't want my leg to be broken because I feared it might do permanent harm to my body. Yet neither I nor anyone else who wanted to prevent Trump's election was successful. And the question we're all asking ourselves is, "what now?"

I was tempted to change myself drastically. Abandon some or all my values. Refuse to compromise or empathize. After all, hadn't the opposite of my values just demonstrated themselves to be winners? But then I started asking myself what my values really are. And I thought of my broken leg. The fact is, sure, I didn't do everything possible to prevent it from happening. But if I did, that would have been crazy. I'd be a paranoid shut-in. Living without the risk of bad things happening is no life at all. I believed that. When bad things did happen, I questioned that belief. But I think...I think it is still essentially a good one.

I started this blog to talk about things that scared me, because I'm a scaredy-cat by nature. I still get freaked out if I watch a horror movie or read a ghost story and then find myself alone in the dark. I've been this way my whole life. But I've also always watched a lot of horror movies and read a lot of ghost stories. I fear social interactions too, but I talk to people I don't know anyway. I try to put myself in situations that scare me, because living without risk is no life at all. And this, finally, brings me to courage.

We all know that courage is not the absence of fear. There are a lot of well-known quotes that state what courage is instead. I would like to posit my own: "...but the presence of hope." I like it because it means courageousness doesn't require that much. Hope doesn't require a belief in a higher power, or that any specific good thing will happen, or even that bad things won't. It reflects only the belief that, on balance, carrying on is worth the risk. Considering the risks we live with each day--from being hit by a car to being treated unjustly by the government--continuing to live each day is an act of bravery. Before I got hit by a car, I walked across streets. After I got hit, I will continue to walk across streets.

So the following is my answer to the question of "what now?" that we who fear a Trump Presidency face. I expect if anyone reads this, it will be my Twitter followers and Facebook friends who share my beliefs. So that's who this is for (though it's really mainly for myself). Here goes: a cornerstone of the conflict between Trump supporters and non-Trump supporters has been the idea of bigotry. Those who are anti-Trump see the bigotry at play in Trump's statements and in his more extreme supporters. They see the more subtle support of bigotry by all people who voted for him. I think this is absolutely justifiable. But here's the thing: when you call someone a racist, sexist, or other form of bigot, they tend to become your enemy forever. It creates a divide that is incredibly hard to ever breach. It creates this idea: all Trump supporters are bigots, and on the other side all Clinton supporters are intolerant ideologues who will never, ever be a Trump supporter's friend. I've seen it a hundred times on the Internet, from people I know personally and otherwise: Trump supporters are not willing to compromise with Clinton supporters, because they think the Clinton supporters refused to compromise first.

I know that I will have to become more politically engaged in the future, if I want to prevent the harm to my country and its citizens and my family and friends that I fear. And what that means is working with people who disagree with me. And what that means, from what I can tell, is that I must talk to them with a willingness to compromise and admit that I might be wrong. Even if I think those people are bigoted or support bigotry. It means that I will have to make them believe that I am not their enemy. It means that I will have to believe that they are not my enemy. I do not say this because I believe all liberals must be the ones to apologize, or that people in general should be accepting of intolerance, bigotry, or injustice. I say this because I know that I can never resolve a conflict by insisting the other party be the bigger person first. Being the bigger person must always start with me. That is what I believed before Donald Trump was elected. I was tempted by his election to abandon this belief. But I don't think that would be an act of courage at all.


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