Famous Sayings: #22 — ‘Courage is Not the Absence of Fear…’

August 7, 2016

courage, bravery, purple heart, purple heart day

Courage is not the absence of fear, but rather the judgment that something else is more important than one’s fear.

August 7 is Purple Heart Day in the United States. Although it’s an unofficial holiday, Americans are encouraged to take the time to honor fallen members of the United States Armed Forces. In addition, we should learn about the experiences of current and retired military personnel and thank them for their service.

The Purple Heart is about bravery. Originally known as the Badge of Military Merit, it was created by Continental Army Commander-in-Chief George Washington in 1782. It was first awarded to three Revolutionary soldiers in 1783. Since it was re-instituted 1932 (as the United States formally entered World War I, the Purple Heart has been awarded 1.8 times (“Purple Heart Day”).

Also, August 8 is Victory Day.

In keeping with the military theme, I decided to look at a quote dealing with courage.

Now to be quite honest, I never really saw the version of the quote I’m using today, but variations of it before. However, the source of this quote could be verified and there is some interesting information behind it and the author.

So, Who Is Responsible for This Saying?

From my initial research, I first saw Nelson Mandela’s name. I might have also seen Oprah’s name, but I didn’t need to pursue that avenue. As it turns out, an author who called himself Ambrose Hollingworth Redmoon (born James Neil Hollingworth) is credited with that phrase.

The information on Redmoon wouldn’t have been found hadn’t it been for Julia Keller and some investigative record keepers. In 2002, Keller told the story of how she found the quote.

At some point, Redmoon wrote an article for a 1991 issue of the now-defunct Gnosis: A Journal of the Western Inner Traditions. Published by the husband and wife team of Jay Kinney and Dixie Tracy-Kinney, Gnosis was devoted to New Age spirituality and mysticism. As mentioned in the archived article, there is an index page on the Internet that lists the article written by Redmoon. You can view it here.

The article Redmoon wrote was five paragraphs long and called “No Peaceful Warriors!” The message was that protest took physical sacrifice. Here is an excerpt with the famous saying:

As a real, live, initiated, trained, experienced, traditional, hereditary warrior with thirty-seven body scars and a trophy or two on my belt, I find such expressions as “peaceful warrior” offensive, trivializing, and insulting. “Peaceful warrior” is far more than a contradiction in terms. The function of a warrior is to eliminate an exterior enemy presence … Cowardice is a serious vice. Courage is not the absence of fear, but rather the judgment that something else is more important than one’s fear. The timid presume it is lack of fear that allows the brave to act when the timid do not. But to take action when one is not afraid is easy. To refrain when afraid is also easy. To take action regardless of fear is brave.

Did Ambrose Redmoon Really Coin This Phrase About Courage?

From the looks of things, it looks like he did. Now, there are variations of this saying and some earlier quote comes very close to this one. However, not all could be sourced and one in particular comes after Redmoon’s.

From what I saw on Washington’s blog, the first four (undated) quotes come very close.

Here’s one from Nelson Mandela:

I learned that courage was not the absence of fear, but the triumph over it. The brave man is not he who does not feel afraid, but he who conquers that fear.

Here’s a quote from John Wayne:

Courage is being scared to death but saddling up anyway.

Here’s a quote credited to Eddie Rickenbacker:

Courage is doing what you’re afraid to do. There can be no courage unless you’re scared.

And here is a quote credited to General George Patton:

Courage is fear holding on a minute longer.

The middle quotes are close to the version I first heard, yet they’re not quite there and there is a noticeable difference from Redmoon’s quote.

Additionally, I did find the quote I was originally looking for. However, it was credited to Bruce Lee and Mark Twain, but there is no way of verifying that.

In Mark Twain’s case, it looks like the saying is misattributed or misquoted. Still, there is something from Twain that comes close. From Chapter 12 of The Tragedy of Pudd’nhead Wilson:

Courage is resistance to fear, mastery of fear—not absence
of fear. Except a creature be part coward, it is not a
compliment to say it is brave; it is merely a loose
misapplication of the word. Consider the flea!—incomparably
the bravest of all the creatures of God, if ignorance of
fear were courage. Whether you are asleep or awake he will
attack you, caring nothing for the fact that in bulk and
strength you are to him as are the massed armies of the
earth to a sucking child; he lives both day and night and
all days and nights in the very lap of peril and the
immediate presence of death, and yet is no more afraid than
is the man who walks the streets of a city that was
threatened by an earthquake ten centuries before. When we
speak of Clive, Nelson, and Putnam as men who “didn’t know
what fear was,” we ought always to add the flea—and put him
at the head of the procession. —Pudd’nhead Wilson’s

What About Nelson Mandela’s Quote?

Let’s come back to that excerpt for a minute. It is very close to Redmoon’s quote, but it needs some context.

The lines attributed to Nelson Mandela come from his 1995 autobiography, Long Walk to Freedom. (I found that out from Wikiquote.) Also, I found a larger excerpt from a preview of the book on Google Books. Here is some context from an unnumbered page:

         The policy of apartheid created a deep and lasting wound in my country and my people. All of us will spend many years, if not generations, recovering from that profound hurt. But the decades of oppression and brutality had another, unitended effect, and that was that it produced the Oliver Tambos, the Wlater Sisulus, the chief Luthulis, the Yusuf Dadoos, the Bran Fischers, the Robert Sobukwes of our time—men of such extraordinary courage, wisdom, and generosity that their like may never be known again. Perhaps it requires such depth of oppression to create such heights of character. My country is rich in the minerals and gems that lie beneath its soil, but I have always known that its greatest wealth is its people, finer and truer than the purest diamonds.

It is from these comrades in the struggle that I learned the meaning of courage. Time and again, I have seen men and women risk and give their lives for an idea. I have seen men stand up to attacks and torture without breaking, showing a strength and resiliency that defies the imagination. I learned that courage was not the absence of fear, but the triumph over it. I felt fear myself more times than I can remember, but I hid it behind a mask of boldness. The brave man is not he who does not feel afraid, but he who conquers that fear.

So, the quote skips over an entire sentence from the book.

It should also be noted that the book was in part ghostwritten by Richard Stengel, who worked on the book for two years. At the time, Stengel was an author and journalist (Smith). From 2006 to 2013, he served as the managing editor for Time magazine. Currently, he serves as the Under Secretary for Public Diplomacy and Public Affairs. He was sworn in on February 14, 2014 (“Under Secretary”).

Long Walk to Freedom: The Autobiography of Nelson Mandela was published in 1995, but Stengel began working with Mandela 3 years prior. That was after Redmoon’s article was published. I wonder if Stengel was at least partly inspired by Redmoon …

What Does “Courage Is Not the Absence of Fear” Mean?

The original saying and its variations are pretty straightforward.

Basically, it points out how words like “bravery” and “courage” as seen as antonyms to the words “fear” and “cowardice.” For the most part, they are, but there is more to being courageous than conquering one’s fears.

Courage is often about doing what’s right, fighting for others, and being honest with one’s self and others. It will be difficult and that’s the point.

How Can This Be Applied Today?

You can see how this is applied to a military defending a nation and acting in that nation’s interest. I think this applies to Secretary of State John Kerry, two-fold. He joined the Navy in 1966 and in 1967 he began his first tour of duty. While serving in Vietnam, Kerry earned a Bronze Star, and Silver Star, and three Purple Hearts. After returning home in 1969, Kerry joined the Vietnam Veterans against the War VVAW (“Tour of Duty”).

Kerry’s position in protest to the Vietnam War earned him the ire of the Nixon Administration and was used against him in 2004. In that presidential election, Kerry was hounded about his war record and his treatment led to the term “swift-boated.” The thing was Kerry’s record was verified, so that was dirty politics at work.

As Secretary of State, Kerry helped to implement a tentative agreement with Iran. In 2015, the United States and Iran agreed on the nuclear deal that called for Iran to destroy centrifuges, ship uranium out of the country, and to allow regular inspections by the International Atomic Energy Agency. In return, UN sanctions were lifted and the United States unfroze Iranian assets.

When you listen to Kerry speak, you realize that he likes multilateral approaches and diplomacy. These are hard things to do, but much of Kerry’s approach is informed by his experiences in active duty. I think the Iran Deal was the right thing to do. It was definitely preferable to hostile action. And would more sanctions have worked (alone)?

On a smaller scale, this can apply to everyday life.

For an example, look at a boss that deals with an unruly client. Michael Hyatt shared such a story on his blog in 2013. There was an author who was nice to him by “downright nasty” to Hyatt’s staff. Hyatt had to speak up, although he was a bit afraid.

As it turns out, speaking up was a great decision. Not only was it right, but the author complied and it also brought Hyatt and his staff closer together.

In short, courage is a measure of character. As I said in my previous Sunday entry, it is natural to be afraid. What we do with that fear — or in spite of it — it what’s important.

Works Cited

Anonymous Volunteer, Widger, David. “The Tragedy of Pudd’nhead Wilson, by Mark Twain.” Project Gutenburg. 20 Aug 2006; Last updated 29 Oct 2012. eBook. <http://www.gutenberg.org/files/102/102-h/102-h.htm>.

Hyatt, Michael. “Courage Is Not the Absence of Fear.” Michael Hyatt. 14 Jan 2013. Web. Retrieved 7 Aug 2016. <http://michaelhyatt.com/courage-is-not-the-absence-of-fear.html>.

Keller, Julia. “The mysterious Ambrose Redmoon’s healing words.” Chicago Tribune. 29 Mar 2002. Web. Retrieved 6 Aug. 2016. <http://articles.chicagotribune.com/2002-03-29/features/0203290018_1_chicago-police-officer-terry-hillard-courage>.

Long Walk to Freedom: The Autobiography of Nelson Mandela – Nelson Mandela. Google Books. Web preview. Retrieved 7 Aug 2016. <https://books.google.com/books/about/Long_Walk_to_Freedom.html?id=RHwLqVrnXgIC&printsec=frontcover&source=kp_read_button&hl=en#v=onepage&q&f=false>.

“Purple Heart Day in the United States.” timeanddate.com. Time and Date, AS. Web. Retrieved 7 Aug 2016. <http://www.timeanddate.com/holidays/us/purple-heart-day>.

“Richard Stengel.” The U.S. Department of State. The United States. Web. Retrieved 7 Aug 2016. <http://www.state.gov/r/pa/ei/biog/221669.htm>.

Smith, David. “Sequel to Nelson Mandela’s Long Walk to Freedom to be published next year.” The Guardian. 23 Mar 2015. Web. Retrieved 7 Aug 2016. <https://www.theguardian.com/world/2015/mar/24/nelson-mandela-long-walk-to-freedom-sequel-uk-bookshops>.

“Tour of Duty: John Kerry and the Vietnam War” Amazon.com. Web. Retrieved 7 Aug 2016. <https://www.amazon.com/Tour-Duty-John-Kerry-Vietnam/dp/0060565233/>.

WashingtonsBlog. “Courage is Being Scared to Death But Saddling Up Anyway.” Washington’s Blog. 9 June 2012. Web. Retrieved 7 Aug 2016. <http://www.washingtonsblog.com/2012/06/i-learned-that-courage-was-not-the-absence-of-fear-but-the-triumph-over-it-the-brave-man-is-not-he-who-does-not-feel-afraid-but-he-who-conquers-that-fear.html>.


3 thoughts on “Famous Sayings: #22 — ‘Courage is Not the Absence of Fear…’

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