Courage. It's sometimes hard to recognize it when we see it. Gabby Giffords doesn't have the swagger, and she doesn't talk tough. But when it comes to gun violence she's got it. She walks the walk. She already knows what it's like to be targeted and have your life destroyed by a zealot, and yet she somehow has the strength to stand up and say it's time to change what we're doing when it comes to guns.
We all know what courage isn't--courage isn't backing away from a tough vote because you're worried about keeping your job. Courage means standing up for your convictions. Not when it's easy to do so, but when it's hard. Courage is hard. It means taking a risk--a political risk, and maybe even a personal risk--to stand up for the people of this country who want to put a stop to gun violence.
People keep trotting out the word FEAR to explain the Senate's cowardly vote, and to explain the failure of House leaders, of any party, to take a stand. Fear of losing a primary or general election, is what they generally mean. But there's also the implied fear, that gun-wielding zealots will rise up "in arms," will target anyone who speaks out for the ordinary people who want sensible gun regulation.
I don't want to get side-tracked on the definition of what sensible is. There's a long history of figuring out how to balance individual liberties and public safety, and it can be done. Sensible might mean seatbelts in moving vehicles. It might mean restricted access for young people to addicting substances, like cigarettes. It might mean a requirement for people to get on a publicly-accessible registry when they own a car. It might mean a limitation on how much fertilizer a person can buy who has no agricultural need for it. We can figure out what's sensible here---what benefits the public at the minimum of intrusion into the rights of citizens. We've done that before and can do it again.
No, my interest is in defining another word. Courage.
The ability to do something that frightens one.
Strength in the face of pain or grief.
bravery - valour - valor - pluck - gallantry - nerve
cour·age [kur-ij, kuhr-]
the quality of mind or spirit that enables a person to face difficulty, danger, pain, etc., without fear; bravery.
Obsolete . the heart as the source of emotion.
have the courage of one's convictions, to act in accordance with one's beliefs, especially in spite of criticism.
1250–1300; Middle English corage < Old French, equivalent to cuer heart (< Latin cor; see heart) + -age -age
1. fearlessness, dauntlessness, intrepidity, pluck, spirit. Courage, bravery, valor, bravado refer to qualities of spirit and conduct. Courage permits one to face extreme dangers and difficulties without fear: to take (or lose ) courage. Bravery implies true courage with daring and an intrepid boldness: bravery in a battle. Valor implies heroic courage: valor in fighting for the right. Bravado is now usually a boastful and ostentatious pretense of courage or bravery: empty bravado.
cour·age (kûrj, kr-)I've often tweaked people, in a friendly way, on this site for using the word "balls" to describe courage. It's not just that the word excludes me, as a woman, from possessing this trait. No, I feel it misrepresents the trait itself. "Balls" is typically a word that equated to bravery of a particular kind, bordering on recklessness, and typically pertaining to men.
The state or quality of mind or spirit that enables one to face danger, fear, or vicissitudes with self-possession, confidence, and resolution; bravery.
[Middle English corage, from Old French, from Vulgar Latin *corticum, from Latin cor, heart; see kerd- in Indo-European roots.]
On the other hand, I don't want to argue that we should revert entirely to the word's origins, which as shown above are actually closer to the word heart. A word we associate strongly with caring, and often, in our gendered use of language, with women.
Real courage, I'd say, is little more universal, a little more rare, than either of these uses. Possessing the strength of heart to stand by one's convictions, in the face of overwhelming odds, this trait is a powerful, ancient, and gender-neutral trait. It is both precious and rare, and sometimes it's easy to miss. Gabby Giffords exhibits it. Carolyn McCarthy's dogged fight in the House on this issue embodies it. The president's speech following the vote exemplified it.
My question is this: Now that the vote is over, who will stand with Gabby? Who has the courage to pick up this supposedly dead issue and bring it back to life?
I, for one, refuse to accept that this issue is now closed.
Times are tough, and by definition, the tough will be the ones to get going. Let's have the courage to get going. Let's make this a political struggle of a generation. They keep saying that this is the end. It's not. Not for me. It's only the beginning.
The place to start is to ask our representatives and senators to do what we elected them to do, to have the courage to make the tough decisions we need them to make. And if they won't, if they lack that special, rare, essential trait, we need to replace them with people who do possess it.