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On Courage

Written by

Mark Wolinski

I wonder what it takes for a person to be courageous.

I originally wrote this is May, 2012, but seems just as relevant today and I’ve updated it a little bit.

If we think back to some events in history, what did it take individuals to do what they did and would I have the same fortitude to do that as well.

Could you rise up with fellow passengers and take on hijackers, knowing full well that your actions will bring the plane down?

What about stand in front of a tank in Tienanmen Square?

Could you charge off a landing craft onto the beaches at Normandy?

It’s easy to say, “Hell yeah! I’d take on those terrorists! God bless ‘Merica!” sitting on my couch watching the latest episode of Dancing with the Stars.

But if I’m honest, really honest with myself, I’d have to say, “I don’t know.” Do any of us know what we would do? I wonder, how many people, while they’re waiting for their flight glance around at other passengers and try to gage threats.

Humans like to prepare themselves. We play out scenarios in our mind working out our reaction. Then, if that happens, we know what to do. Rarely do situations play out was we thought they would, whether it’s as simple as a conversation with a partner or an attack.

Of course, there are levels of courage. It’s one thing to step forward and say your boss is breaking the law and something completely different to stand in front of a tank. One could be the end of your career at your company, the end of your life with the other.

I was thinking about this because the other day, I was watching a movie about a very courageous woman, Sophie Scholl.

Nothing is so unworthy of a civilized nation as allowing itself to be “governed” without opposition by an irresponsible clique that has yielded to base instinct.

The White Rose

If you’re not familiar with her, I highly recommend the movie Sophie Scholl: The Final Days, it’s in German with subtitles or the book Sophie Scholl: The Woman who Defied Hitler by Frank McDonough (it’s available as an ebook).

Sophie was a leading member of the Nazi resistance group known as The White Rose. The group was made up of Munich university students and their philosophy professor. The movement was notably non-violent and philosophical, producing six fliers that were distributed around Munich and Bavaria.

Today, we take the right to peaceful assembly as a given right, although, as the recent Occupy Movement has shown us, authority has ways to discourage that right. The students in Berkeley who were pepper sprayed showed extreme courage to protect their rights and their message.

In her time, Sophie and the other members of The White Rose demonstrated extreme courage because the result of getting caught was almost certain death. There were many things you did not do, if you were in Germany during the Nazi regime, one of them being speaking out against Hitler.

I knew what I took upon myself and I was prepared to lose my life by so doing.

Hans Scholl, White Rose

Would you be willing to help distribute those fliers?

What most people want is a chance to live their life with the ability to grow better. But the reality is that we are cajoled into our pens by others, government or religion. And it takes an extraordinary group of individuals to stop, stand up and try to break out of those prisons.

To bring freedom and decency to their fellow citizens.

Most times, those folks will never survive the fights, but if they have lit the pilot light under enough people, their cause will carry through to the end.

In the end, Sophie and five other members of The White Rose were beheaded. But their message sustained. The sixth flier was smuggled out of Germany where the Allies edited it and dropped thousands of them over Germany.

It is unknown what Sophie’s last words actually were. Most believe they were:…your heads will fall as well. There is some debate whether Sophie said those words or her brother, Hans, said them.

It is known that with his head in the guillotine, Hans said: Es lebe die Freiheit!

Long live Freedom.

But even if we aren’t fermenting a revolution or standing up to the Gestapo, our own little battles require courage. A liberal raised in a conservative house. A gay person coming out. A single mother raising a child. We should support those finding their own voice at a challenging time and offer the strength they need to continue their fight.

Because, at times, we will all need a little courage.

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