Courage is the only way we can save ourselves from ourselves
In prior essays for the Good Men Project, I focused on two of six questions asked by Socrates as he pursued a life of excellence: (1) What is justice? (2) What is good? The additional questions are: (3) What is piety? (4) What is courage? (5) What is moderation? (6) What is virtue? In this short essay, I address the question of courage and its importance to contemporary living in light of the near-term demise of Homo sapiens.
According to my friends Merriam and Webster, courage is defined as mental or moral strength to venture, persevere, and withstand danger, fear, or difficulty. This neatly simple definition hints at the many ways courage can be pursued. Socrates demonstrated remarkable courage by posing difficult questions until he was finally killed for his audacity. Even at death’s door, Socrates displayed uncommon mental and moral strength before drinking from the state’s lethal cup.
The example of Socrates remains relevant. How do we summon courage in the face of overwhelming evidence pointing toward near-term human extinction as a result of climate change? Facing death as an individual, Socrates remained committed to a life of excellence. Facing his individual death, Socrates kept asking questions. Facing death, Socrates displayed the courage of his mental and moral convictions.
Can we demonstrate Socrates-style courage as individuals? Will we demonstrate such courage as a society?
As individuals, we can lead the way for others, thus serving as an example for society. We are capable of tremendous compassion and creativity in the face of disaster. By persevering in the face of daunting challenge, we exemplify the spirit of Socrates and the best side of our humanity.
Such an approach may seem unwarranted in light of the virtually certain death. On the other hand, we’ve long known all individuals die and all species go extinct. Facing both prospects within the span of our remaining years on Earth is nothing if not a call to courage.
Linked to courage is our attitude. Is there a better metric of our courage than how we treat other humans and other species as we stare into the abyss?