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Cowardice, yet courage

Ego yet Humility


It’s always a good idea to work up a good understanding of what we’re talking about – beyond ordinary ‘common sense’ understanding - when reflecting upon principles. The monthly themes are not “opposites” as one may be inclined to think, but are what we call “coincidentia oppositorum”, inseparable complementarities, mutually arising, whereby the one does not manifest without the other.


Courage cannot arise except where there is fear to overcome. Cowardice is not a synonym to “Fear” ; it is a condition under which the fear we feel inhibits our actions to manifest something we effectively can act upon. It does require Courage to proceed toward a difficult endeavour, but jumping out of an aeroplane without a parachute would not be Courageous – likewise NOT jumping would not be Cowardice.


Needless to say (but I’ll say it anyway, for clarity), the “aeroplane” here is a metaphor for the many conflicts in which we find ourselves engaged, yet wherefore neither Courage is required nor are avoiding them acts of Cowardice : they are merely things upon which we cannot effect any control. Thus, as by jumping without a parachute and expecting that to come off as heroic will only be as much an act of Courage as the resulting ‘SPLAT’. Avoiding the ‘splat’ is not therefore a sign of Cowardice.


Of course not all encounters of Courage over against Cowardice involve turning ourselves into a puddle of goo, but the principle remains the same : let us not confuse imprudence (or just outright stupidity) with Courage, nor prudence with Cowardice. We wouldn’t jump from the aeroplane – or any other “Darwin award” event – so, why do we jump into situations where no universally positive outcome is possible ? Nota bene : causing suffering to some “them” for the happiness of some “us” is not Courage – it is more akin to profound vanity.


It requires Courage also to say : “I can’t change anything about this situation, so let me try to ease the suffering of those in it.” It requires even more Courage to admit that we can’t even do that.


We’ve been conditioned by Manichaean stories of “courageous” heroes defeating “villainous” enemies and we dream of acting in the saviour capacity for our loved ones and friends. But, is it really for their benefit that we fantasise about this ? Or, is is more to enjoy imagining how grateful they would be (maybe !) or how much we would be loved as their “hero” (again maybe !) ?


This is where Cowardice, yet Courage meets Ego, yet Humility (rather Hubris, yet Humililty). Please stop thinking that “Ego” is a negative term – despite what Tolle and Oprah say about it. “Ego” merely means “I”, but includes the unconscious, pre-reflexive self-awareness : “ego” is also that externalised self-image – how we “see ourselves” when the self becomes an object of perception to itself, how we decorate or disguise it. It is also how we want others to “see” us (as objects of perception).


Indeed, hubris may lead us to the “Darwin awards” sign-up list. But, even if is doesn’t go that far, it is often some form of hubris that goads us into charging into a situation in order to be “seen” as the courageous hero (this is the dark side of the archetype, but we’ll discuss that in another context). We need to exercise our Humility in order to come to the understanding that none of us in ourselves can put the world to right. As it were, even pretentiously thinking that we know consciously what is “right” is hubris.


Myth relates to hero figures who aspire to great feats of strength or martial renown. These are cautionary figures who also often suffer for these very self-same acts of bravery. There is good reason in that : everything we do is evil to someone. Just because many other people tell us that we are good, right, just does not make it a fact. Indeed, that we are good, right and just is never a fact. It is ever only a value-judgement from a someone’s perspective. An example, from the perspective of the capitalist class, laying off two thousand workers with no other way to provide for themselves and their families in order to protect and increase the profits for investors is good, right and just. For the working class who suffer from their justice, they are ordinarily not considered heroic… This model applies to every instance of “them vs. us”. Consider all positions carefully before trying to be heroic, lest we unleash our chaotic hubris into an already perilous situation.


Let us be prudent enough observe first to understand the situations we approach. Let us be keen and careful in our observations so that we do not hastily ‘pick a side’ to be on. Let us not manifest Hubris as Courage, nor mistake Humility for Cowardice.


May the Force be with you forevermore…


Respectfully submitted

2 juin 2024

~ Me Alexandre Orion