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Is courage about living fearlessly or living wholeheartedly? When exploring the word courage, you’ll find that it has evolved from its original meaning and has developed into a few different forms. There is physical courage, emotional courage, and moral courage. For many, the life of Sir Ranulph Fiennes would exemplify the word courage. The courage of this man, I would label as physical courage. However, researcher, Brene Brown, Ph.D., LMSW, would tell you that courage is linked to vulnerability and that vulnerability is the key to transforming the way we live, love, parent, and lead. This type of courage is emotional courage. And lastly, throughout history, there have been fierce leaders who have fought for the rights of those who are oppressed. This type of courage refers to moral courage.

The word courage is derived from the Latin root cor, meaning heart. After doing a tremendous amount of research, Brene Brown said in her famous TED talk that the original definition of courage is “to tell the story of who you are with all your heart” (TEDTalks: Brene Brown–The Power of Vulnerability.” TED, 2010.). This definition is very different from the one in the Merriam Webster dictionary which is “mental or moral strength to venture, persevere and withstand danger, fear or difficulty” (“Courage.” Merriam-Webster).

Merriam-Webster’s dictionary definition is synonymous with the life of Sir Ranulph Fiennes, who is considered to be the world’s bravest man. He is known for serving in the British army where he specialized in demolitions. Since he didn’t like the British army, he set up Oman’s national army and became a hero conducting many risky but successful missions. The sultanate decorated him for his exceptional bravery. After his military career, Fiennes became an explorer. He is the only person to circumnavigate the North Pole and the South Pole. In 1993, he became the first man to walk on all of Antarctica; in only ninety-three days! Later he tried to walk the North Pole by himself, but he got frostbite on some of his fingers. To remedy the situation, he chose to cut his fingers off with a hacksaw so he didn’t have to pay a high-cost medical bill. After suffering a severe heart attack and getting double bypass surgery, he ran 7 marathons in 7 continents in 7 days. He had done this for the British Heart Foundation. At 65, he was able to scale Mount Everest after two unsuccessful attempts and when he was 71, he ran a 156-kilometer ultramarathon through the Sahara desert. Fiennes has been rightfully named the “World’s Greatest Living Explorer” in the Guinness Book of World Records. When asked what he would do if he was younger, he said he would explore the vast oceans and outer space. Certainly, Sir Ranulph Fiennes had tremendous physical courage.

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Although Sir Ranulph Fiennes’ accomplishments are highly commendable, they are not what Brene Brown tells us courage is about in her book Daring Greatly. (Brown Brene ́. Daring Greatly: How the Courage to Be Vulnerable Transforms the Way We Live, Love, Parent, and Lead. Avery, 2015.) In Brene’s research, most people identify vulnerability as a weakness, the opposite of Ranulph Fiennes’ actions. Brown states that vulnerability is the core of all emotions and feelings and that to feel is to be vulnerable. She says that our rejection of vulnerability stems from associating it with dark emotions like fear, shame, grief, sadness, and disappointment; ones that we don’t want to discuss. However, these emotions impact the way we live, love, work, and lead. Brown explains that vulnerability is the birthplace of love, belonging, joy, courage, empathy, and creativity and that it’s the source of hope, empathy, accountability, and authenticity. If we want lives with greater purpose and fulfillment, vulnerability is the way.

Brown defines vulnerability as uncertainty, risk, and emotional exposure. An example of how this works in our lives is love. Love is uncertain and we don’t know if a person will love us back. However, if we don’t allow ourselves to be vulnerable which is to have courage. Then we will miss out on the beauty of experiencing love. Another example of being vulnerable is putting your artwork, writing, photography, or ideas out there. There is no assurance that these efforts will be accepted or appreciated. It’s a risk, but if we aren’t vulnerable, we miss out on what could have been. To be vulnerable and to take risks in this way is emotional courage.

Moral courage has played a major role throughout history and its impact has been life-changing regarding personal freedoms. A couple of examples are women getting the right to vote and Martin Luther King fighting for equality amongst races. In 1920 several men and women fought for women’s rights by marching in parades and creating petitions. Susan B. Anthony, one of the most well-known women’s rights activists, was courageous for speaking out and advocating for women so they could get the rights that they deserve. In 1963, Martin Luther King led the march on Washington so that he and many others could fight for equal rights and freedom. I consider every person who participated would be considered courageous because they risked getting shut down and knew they could be taken to jail or even killed just for asserting themselves. Instead, they were driven by moral courage having the determination to stand up for what they believed in. Unfortunately, many people involved in the movement did suffer consequences including Martin Luther King who was shot and killed in Tennessee. Today, women have the right to vote and people of all races can share public facilities, transportation, and restaurants all because of the people who fought against segregation.

In my opinion, all forms of courage are important. They create an atmosphere of inspiration for people who might not take a risk if they didn’t have these role models. People such as Sir Ranulph Fiennes inspire others to physical excellence and achievement. Brene Brown inspires people to be vulnerable and create more fulfilling lives and people like Susan B. Anthony and Martin Luther King inspire people to challenge the status quo.

Work Cited

    1. Brown Brené. Daring Greatly: How the Courage to Be Vulnerable Transforms the Way We Live, Love, Parent, and Lead. Avery, 2015.
    2. “Courage.” Merriam-Webster, Merriam-Webster, www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/courage.
    3. Devnath, Vinay. “14 Incredible Facts About Sir Ranulph Fiennes That Make Him The Most Badass Human Ever.” Storypick, 18 Apr. 2017, www.storypick.com/ranulph-fiennes/.
    4. “TEDTalks: Brene Brown–The Power of Vulnerability.” TED, 2010.
    5. YourDictionary. “Examples of Courage.” YourDictionary, 5 May 2017, https://www.storypick.com/ranulph-fiennes/

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