‘He who goes to war to kill innocent children, can never be a hero’, my teacher used to say when I was in 3rd grade in a small Bavarian village.
‘Imagine a bank robbery’, he used to continue. ‘The robbers take a young woman and her child as hostage, threaten to kill them with their guns. Would you stand up and offer to be the hostage instead, very well knowing that it might end very badly? Well, if you did, then you’d be a hero.’
It was almost 40 years ago that our teacher told us this lesson and what I never forgot was the link he opened between courage and fear.
Does it take a brave heart to book a bungee jump from a tall bridge into the abyss? After having done research for months on the security issues and the reliability of the company on TripAdvisor? Is it brave to jump when you know 100% (and the few accidents that happen are so rare that it is braver to take a plane to spend your vacation) that you will survive and not be injured at all?
In the Hero’s Journey, the mythological metaphor for our big challenges in life, the wannabe hero has to follow the call, get past the gatekeeper and after many life threatening adventures confront the dragon in its deep down cave. Which of course is an image, an archetype that gives shape to the fearsome dragon within each of us:
Our biggest fear.
Once the hero has defeated the dragon, he can come back into this world and share the treasures of wisdom with society. This is what made a hero thousands of years ago.
You need no uniform to be a hero. You need no weapons or fearsome enemies in a back alley to be brave.
In the end, for me the biggest courage of all is to be oneself.
To endure mockery and insult, to make your stand when your family turns their backs on you, to overcome – and this might be the hardest of all – the nagging doubts within yourself. Telling you, especially when you’re in bed and can’t sleep, that you do it all completely wrong.
Going where others have gone is a risk you can calculate.
Going where no one has been before needs real bravery. Setting off into the unknown, with no ally by your side, off to explore undiscovered territory – the territory of yourself, of your own unique path – this is what takes real courage.
And when everyone points their fingers at you, laughing like mad hyenas, mocking: ‘This is dreamery, you fool.’ To then have trust in yourself and reply: ‘Yes, because I am a dreamer. And I am proud of it.’
This has courage.
To see the path being created as you walk on it.
This has courage.
To be yourself, no matter what they say and believe in your heart’s decisions:
This is what a real hero does.