Helping Learners Understand Spoken English

Courage: Strength in the Face of Fear

Defining Courage /ˈkɜr ɪdʒ/

Courage is defined as the ability to do things that frighten us. It is also defined as strength in the face of pain, danger, or grief.

Courage has many synonyms. Below you’ll find some of the more common ones.

Synonyms: backbone, bravery, daring, fearlessness, fortitude, grit, nerve

Courageous Expressions

  • face something with courage: deal with, confront
  • have the guts to do something: have enough courage to do something
  • liquid courage/Dutch courage: alcohol
  • the courage of one’s convictions: strong faith or confidence in one’s beliefs

Courage Discussion

Courage comes in many forms. These days, when we think of courage, it is often the type that requires strength of mind rather than physical strength. We require courage to face challenges and overcome hardships. The very nature of being human requires great courage. Life is a duality of joy and pain, love and loss, suffering and beauty.

The past year has been a trying one for many. Pandemic times call for us to be courageous in a million little ways. From joblessness to the loss of loved ones, we are living in unprecedented times. While humankind has faced other pandemics and difficulties, most of us alive today have not had to deal with social isolation and restrictions on a such a vast (extremely large, immense) scale.

trying: difficult, stressful, hard to endure
call for: require
unprecedented: having never happened or existed before

“You gain strength, courage, and confidence by every experience in which you really stop to look fear in the face. You are able to say to yourself, ‘I lived through this horror. I can take the next thing that comes along.’”
~ Eleanor Roosevelt

You have courage. It is within you. It’s up to you to use it. What comes easily to some might require enormous courage from others. In the end, the only way out is through.

If something is up to someone, it is their responsibility to do or decide something.

Plenty of Courage

“You have plenty of courage, I am sure,” answered Oz. “All you need is confidence in yourself. There is no living thing that is not afraid when it faces danger. The true courage is in facing danger when you are afraid, and that kind of courage you have in plenty.”
~ L. Frank Baum, The Wonderful Wizard of Oz

The fact that we require courage means that we are encountering a threat, whether real or imagined. Thus, it is important to weigh the risks before acting. Some risks are real and our fear may be protecting us from actual harm.

On the other hand, many risks don’t come with much potential for real harm, but our fear gets the better of us. We would much rather stay inside our comfort zone.

to get the better of someone: to defeat

comfort zone: a comfortable situation where you do not have to do anything new or difficult, your comfort zone feels safe
To step outside your comfort zone is to do something new or different that pushes you outside of your comfort zone.

A lot of fear is limiting, but the truth is, you have plenty of courage. You are capable of more than you imagine. By weighing the pros and cons of a situation, you will discover that you have the strength to step outside your comfort zone if you want or care about something badly enough.

“We can choose courage or we can choose comfort, but we can’t have both. Not at the same time.”
~ Brené Brown, Rising Strong

“Courage is risking the known for the unknown, the familiar for the unfamiliar.”
~ Osho

Courage: Fear Management

Pandemic and scary life choices aside, let’s look at a more manageable type of courage: the courage to speak another language. After all, this is a website for English language learners and teachers, so that is our main focus when it comes to courage. As a teacher, a lot of my job is about gently encouraging students to step outside of their comfort zone.

aside: excluded from thought, used to mean that what follows does not include the situation mentioned

In many cases where we require courage, the risk we face is all in our head.

in one’s head: in one’s imagination and often exaggerated

We are afraid of what others might think of us, of failing, or of looking stupid. To this, I say, “So what?” The truth is, others aren’t thinking about you all that much. They are too busy worrying about what you think of them. As for failure? The greatest minds in the world have failed over and over on the path to success.

“I have not failed. I’ve just found 10,000 ways that won’t work.”
~ Thomas A. Edison

Success: The Other Side of Fear

At the beginning of each semester, I ask my students to be brave. Most of them begin the semester filled with fear. They are afraid of making a mistake, of saying the wrong thing, and of being judged by their peers. Letting all this go and taking small steps brings them to the other side of fear. They quickly realize that they are capable of much more than they imagined.

“A comfort zone is a beautiful place, but nothing ever grows there.”
~ Author unknown

Mistakes are inevitable when learning a language (and in living life). They are completely natural and nothing to be ashamed of or concerned about. By letting go of the unrealistic desire for perfection, we begin to overcome our fears and take small steps towards success.

Related post: Embrace Mistakes in Language Learning

“Be not afraid of growing slowly, be afraid of standing still.”
~ Chinese Proverb

We should be more afraid of not trying than of making a mistake. For it is in not trying that opportunities are missed.

For my students, this means a shift in mindset about the role of mistakes in learning and growth. Year after year, I hear the same thing from students at the end of the semester. They tell me that they gained confidence by stepping outside of their comfort zone. They say it was scary at first, but that it got easier after just a few times. Of course, there are also a few students who remain quiet all semester. They tell me they wished they had been braver. They see the progress their classmates have made, but their fear got the better of them.

Related post: Mindset – A Key to Improvement

Where Do You Require Courage?

By understanding what is at risk in a given situation, you can make an informed decision about whether or not to act. By taking a realistic look at the risks and rewards, you can muster the courage to do the things you want to do. Time spent trying is never wasted if you reflect and learn from your experiences.

muster (up): gather, find

Think back to a time when courage in the face of fear led to growth or a new opportunity. The courage is there. What’s the worst that could happen? You have two choices. Either stay comfortable or push forward to the next adventure. It is right there waiting for you.

“Courage is not the absence of fear, but rather the assessment that something else is more important than fear.”
~ Franklin D. Roosevelt

Never stop learning!
~ Trey