courage, draft dodgers and storytelling

continuing on the remembrance day topic, this morning i caught the tail end of michael enright at CBC radio conversing with a historian and a soldier about the meaning of courage. one question was whether it was cowardly for vietnam draft dodgers to come to canada. there was a view that it was more courageous to go to military prison for a year than to escape to canada.

what is courage?

the online etymological dictionary has this to say:

c.1300, from Old French corage, from Vulgar Latin. *coraticum, from Latin cor “heart,” which remains a common metaphor for inner strength. In Middle English, used broadly for “what is in one’s mind or thoughts,” hence “bravery,” but also “wrath, pride, confidence, lustiness,” or any sort of inclination.

my dictionary of word origins adds that it was only in the 17th century that the word courage “became narrowed down in application to ‘bravery'”.

this is interesting: the very thing a soldier is not supposed to do is follow her or his heart. a soldier must follow directions, must follow procedure and leaders. that was precisely what one of michael enright’s conversation partners pointed out: that if a soldier felt that he did not like the politics of his country anymore, he did not have the choice to bail out. the soldier’s contract is to follow the leader.

the draft dodgers i have met were all men who believed in following their hearts. does that make them courageous?

a coward, says my dictionary of word origin, is someone who runs away with his tail between his legs. did draft dodgers have their tails between their legs? i wouldn’t say so. they struck me more as people who said, forget it, i’m not playing this game. they did what we are so often encouraged to do: walk away from a fight.

i realize that there are many possible viewpoints to this, many different ways of telling the story of the draft dodger.

which, by the way, brings us to yet another twist on the word courage: therapist elizabeth bernstein claims that originally, the word courage meant “to speak your mind with all your heart”. she connects courage to the ability to bravely and authentically tell one’s own story. in a conference on this topic, there was also an interesting comparison between st. george, whose courage helped him to slay the dragon “because the dragon was bad” and st. martha, who had the courage to overcome her fear and befriended the dragon.

who had more courage?

or are these two just very different and difficult-to-compare types of courage?

perhaps the courage of a soldier is incomprehensible to a draft dodger, and the courage of a draft dodger is hard to understand for a soldier.

isabella mori
counselling in vancouver

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