It would be deeply troubling -- if not plain immoral -- if such research led to the development of a 'courage pill' that could turn soldiers into 'perfect', fearless fighters.
Fear can stop us taking necessary action. But it can also give us pause for thought. The trick is not to let it take hold, and to be able to transcend it when we need to. 'There's only one way with fear and that's through it,' says psychologist Noam Shpancer. It's an ongoing, dynamic process, that will never be completed and that is essential for making change happen, in the individual and in the world.
Of course, bravery does not always involve virtuous action. It can be violent, militaristic, macho, tribal. 'This is the paradox of courage,' according to Avramenko. 'On the one hand, it is about self-overcoming and commitment to others. On the other hand" it is exclusionary and violent.'
He sees the shift away from an ancient, martial conception of courage to one that is political and justice-based as a way through this theoretical conundrum. The kind of courage we are focusing on in this edition is the justice-based variety. It is empathetic and community minded, geared towards resisting and limiting harm.
One common theme in all the stories is caring, and the comradeship that courage fosters as it creates a virtuous circle of valour. Many of our interviewees point to the work of others, and the sacrifices they have made, as sources of inspiration.
Such courage is the lifeblood of a healthy individual and a healthy society. It's what makes for meaningful, purposeful change, challenging the cynicism of that slick, fashionable, armchair elision of the word 'brave' with 'stupid'.
It inspires and impels the human spirit towards building a better world.
It's a critical time to build media that brings people together -- not drives them apart. That means journalism that creates an inclusive global community, and emphasizes that the struggles of people are often in opposition to the same elite-driven globalization and share the same aspiration to a global, common good.
At New Internationalist, we have never had a rich benefactor or a media tycoon bankrolling what we do. So it makes sense for us to turn to our readers to help shape the kind of journalism that makes the case for something better.
On 1 March, we are launching an ambitious Community Share Offer, opening up ownership of New Internationalist to ordinary people all over the world. If you are interested in joining us, visit factsandheart.org.
- Richard Avramenko, Courage: the Politics of Life and Limb, University of Notre Dame Press, 2011, --
- Sheila Jeffers, Feel the fear and do it anyway, Vermilion, 2012 (first published in 1987). --
- Jeff Wise, 'What makes people brave', Readers Digest, 2013,nin.tl/make-brave --
- Ian Sample, 'Natural born heroes', The Guardian, 2009, --
- Daniela Schiller, 'Snakes in the MRI Machine', Scientific American, 2010nin.tl/fear-studies --
- The Courage Foundationnin.tl/Barrett-Brown --
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