I would like to ask for your understanding if you find too many abstract and philosophical thoughts in this reflection, but I think it is an important subject matter that we can gain some insights into in our search for wisdom and truth…
I think in a day and age where we have become more technologically connected and easier to communicate with one another through a simple push of a button, it has also become harder for people to dialogue with one another. It seems easier to simply hide behind the screen and type up a storm to elaborate on a reaction than to properly open up ourselves to one another. It is hard to look each other in the eye, meet each other as human beings, being transparent, genuine, real, and respectful of one another.
What does it mean to be courageous, avoiding fear-mongering or prideful manifestation of false courage? Does it make one courageous, righteous, and heroic if one chooses to justify one’s self and attack others? Or, would courage be defined and practiced in a different way?
First, I think we have often misunderstood, misused, and abused the term “freedom of speech” as Americans because we think that we have a constitutional right to say anything and everything that we like. We like to define this freedom on the legalistic and hedonistic levels, but we have never elevated that freedom according to the moral, ethical, and biblical levels. Self-centered freedom and censorship are ultimately centered on our desire to silence opinions and muffle out ideas that are not popularly accepted or somehow make us stand out from others. People become keyboard warriors, outspoken and opinionated commentators, and attention seekers for the wrong ideas, not because they are passionate about the truth or things that really matter. At times, they do it because it gives them an opportunity to draw attention to themselves, make themselves feel better even at the cost of putting others down, or make them distracted from the miseries that they are experiencing deep from within. Depending on which philosophers we would like to solicit their perspective on this matter, most do think that we all have a disquietude, perturbation, discord, or dread of self issue that we all need to come to accept, reflect, and grow from our usual egocentric desires. Soren Kierkegaard once said, “People demand freedom of speech as a compensation for the freedom of thought which they seldom use.”
Think about it!
This might be a little bit philosophical but I may dare ask the question… Do we actually desire and seek the truth anymore or have we spent too much on things that are simply opinions and talks that do not really matter or are life-giving? The freedom of speech to say anything and everything does not equate to true freedom of thought to desire and pursue eternal and transcendental matters. How many of us have taken the time to reflect and think deeper into the issues and matters of hand, especially of their alignment with the eternal truth and the transcendental value of our faith, rather than just finding enough time and words to type up a reactionary statement and piece of our opinion?
Speech, even though seems free is not the free expression of who we are deep from within, because it often serves as a reactionary tool that feeds on the sentimental and emotional levels. On the other hand, thoughtfulness requires time to discern, reflect, understand, and respond. Our words and actions are the extensions and reflections of who we are; therefore, it is so important that we give thoughtfulness and consideration to how we formulate our thoughts and responses to matters. We can speak life into hard situations when we are able to discern the teachable moment, challenging opportunity, and providential presence of God there.
From the beginning of Western philosophical thoughts, courage has always been seen as one of our foundational human virtues, even on the same level as wisdom, justice, and temperance for many thinkers. As a matter of fact, Aristotle called courage the first of human qualities because it is the quality that guarantees all others. Courage is not egocentric rashness or imprudential reaction but the ability to do the right thing when we know deep from within our very own self that this is the right thing to be! Courage, for him, is the crown of the other virtues, because it is not simply found without them, but makes them greater. Other philosophers build up on that fact by stating that courage is critical in our age and time because there is no point in saying that we are good and wise if we are unable to act upon it with true courage and temperance. Knowing what is just and right is important, and that is why wisdom, justice, and temperance are crucial; but, it is essential that we have the ability to act upon our conviction and to persevere with that conviction through the humanistic temptations of pleasures, desires, and fears. Courage has both the qualities of tenacity (persistence and determination) as well as fortitude (mental strength to endure hardship).
A courageous person understands his or her fears because they have reflected and come to understand those matters that are worthy of them being fearful. We are faced with different fears and unknowns each day, and that is why it is important for us to know ourselves and what it is that we are fearful of so we can choose a courageous response to them. It is about how we face and handle fear in our lives, especially in tricky, hard, challenging, and out-of-control situations that makes us courageous!
Think about it… Someone who is fearless does not need courage! To accept the truth and our imperfect reality, especially to do so with grace and love shows real courage. To be courageous means not to give into bitterness, hopelessness, or resentment but to resist, master, and willingly overcome fear — not just the absence of fear. Just like other virtues, it has to be practiced and put into application, or else we will succumb to fear when those moments kick in.
Trust me, we shut down once psychological fears take over and diminish our willpower! This also happens in cases of anxiety, depression, and other psychological struggles when we are confronted or have to live with them because they blinded us and keep us locked into our own created pitiful hellish existence. Therefore, courage is critical in gaining control of our lives, stepping beyond our comfort zone, taking risks, and willingly embracing the unknown, challenging, and hard choices.
If we do not take the time to understand our identity, calling, mission, and purpose, we will then definitely miss the opportunities to cultivate and put courage into practice. Just like a virtue or skill set that has to be learned, we have to be gentle, persistent, honest, consistent, transparent, and willing in growing ourselves and our willpower with courageous actions. It might be beneficial to start small at first, by standing our ground with sincerity, respect, and willingness to dialogue when the matter might not be well received or beyond our comfort zone. When we willingly make ourselves engage in these small acts of everyday heroism and truthfulness to ourselves, beliefs, and values, the more natural and easier that particular characteristic strait becomes ingrained as part of our lives.
It is an art and skill to learn as we become courageous in speaking the truth with love and charity. We hold the most valuable and most genuine human characteristic to defend and be true to who we are, to stand firm on our own convictions and way of life in a set of challenging circumstances, relationships, situations, and people. To be courageous does not mean to be a flashy, captivating, and constant portrayal of wanting to be a hero for the sake of praise or self-glorification! It does not mean the willingness to put down others so that we can present ourselves to be better than them or more than what we like and think we should be. Courage is the mean between two excesses of fear and self-centered confidence. It is the ability to avoid rashness and uncharitable reactions to justify and defend one’s ego or to fall short in confidence with cowardice and conformity to popular opinions, and social and peer pressures.
Do we really have enough courage to become true to ourselves, created in the image and likeness of God, to let go of our ego and comfort zone to follow Him, and to be humble and genuine enough to be His instrument of peace and truth? I pray that we do not become so occupied with wasting our time and effort in trying to defend ourselves with the false understanding of freedom of speech but to truly be free with knowing, understanding, and deepening our thoughts, values, and understanding in embracing who we are as people of faith. There is a fine line between true courage and cowardice, genuine conviction and heroic virtue that are aligned with the truth instead of making excuses, blaming others, pointing fingers, or creating defensive deflections to hide our true selves. May we understand which one is which and choose true courage, especially the courage to be true children of our Heavenly Father, disciples of Christ Jesus, and instruments of the Holy Spirit.