"Words mean things." - Steamboat28
Courage is often spoken about in the same breath as bravery, and on the surface the two words can appear very similar in meaning, both being concerned with overcoming or perhaps circumnavigating fear. But beneath the surface, the two concepts are quite different. I'm going to attempt loose definitions of both ideas, and then discuss why courage is so important.
Bravery is one's ability to enter a situation without being stopped by fear. This can be something fun like skydiving, or something more life-changing like moving cities at a moment's notice. The parent who rushes into the road to save their child from an oncoming car is brave. Bravery envisaged from a Jedi perspective is about a very clear focus; focus on what we want to achieve, rather than the risks or fear surrounding that. It's usually a short-term thing, and it's undeniably valuable.
But courage is another way of working with fear. If bravery centres on focus, courage is about both knowledge and wisdom. To be courageous, we must become fully aware of the risks; of the fear we have of doing something. Only when we understand the situation (through knowledge) can we find the wisdom to act with courage. Courage is about being wise enough to face fear rather than simply ignoring or running from it, and making a commitment to doing so which is more than momentary in nature.
Another way to envisage this distinction is to picture fear as a very solid rock which you need to break. Bravery is like striking the rock with a single wild hammer blow, whereas courage is like water flowing over the rock, slowly but surely cutting a valley through it. Courage is the literal yin to bravery's more direct yang.
Courage isn't always about doing what's heroic, bold or daring. Far from that, it's often about realising how "unheroic" we've become; then staying where we are and working hard to make things better. Not every Hero's Journey involves questing out into the world; very many are about battling through the inner landscape of the self. Ironically, this can often seem a very "un-brave" thing to do. When we're in a bad situation we may suddenly find a perfect escape route, if only we're brave enough to take a daring leap - but if we are courageous, rather than this leap into the unknown, we face the situation we're already in with new clarity and then take steps to improve it. We take responsibility for who we are, where we are and the commitments we've made. Rather than doing what's most exciting, or enticing, we do what we know in our hearts is right.
In my life, the things which have required most courage are those which involved facing up to some shortcoming or lack in myself. I'm a stubborn person, and prefer to do things myself whenever possible. When I sought help for depression, anger, addiction, poor parenting and a failing marriage, each of these was like an admission of failure or defeat to me in some way. Reflecting more deeply, I believe these were all expressions of courage; courage to face the truth of the situation and try something new. It scared me to admit I was addicted to something for example, but in admitting I was, I took control of that destructive part of my life. I learned new skills, worked really hard and achieved something greater than I would have by simply ignoring the problem.
Jedi are courageous in nature. Our path is an "alternative" one, meaning we're not simply following the herd in being at the Temple. When I tell people I'm a Jedi, they sometimes laugh, joke or misunderstand me completely. It takes courage to express belief in something others would mock, however deeply felt and sincerely we believe it.
But more than this, we're courageous because we're searching for our own truth, and taking steps to improve ourselves. We're making that commitment to facing the reality of our situation and then working to improve it. The Jedi mission is one of harmony, and this requires us to face the angers, fears and doubts we find in the world. In order to make things better, we must first understand them as they are. Sometimes that requires bravery, a selfless leap into the dark; but more often it takes courage, the long-term work which leads us to our ultimate goals in the face of all the risk and confusion which surrounds us.
Better still, part of our work involves raising those around us to this same level of courage, literally 'encouraging' others to participate in the compassion, harmony and oneness that is at the core of our belief. This encouragement is of itself a form of courage; we take a risk and believe that others can see as we see. And often our courage is rewarded, as the positive effects of our actions and ideas ripple outwards through the world.
Courage takes the best of us. It can shock, wound and terrify us. But it is through courage that we make more of ourselves, and of those around us. Only through courage do we reach true strength. Jedi embody courage, live courageously and give themselves to what is important, meaningful, harmonious. We understand the risks of our path, and that danger doesn't always mean death and destruction, but can mean a wasted life, a misguided belief or the realisation we are not the person we thought we were.
To be courageous is to see the danger, understand it, and to give yourself to it anyway.
"For it is in giving that we receive."