Ever wondered what this means? Ever really thought about it? I did. I pondered it one day when I heard myself saying it. “The courage of one’s convictions,” and as I looked at each word, and the order they fall in, I came to see that what this is talking about is not courage at all. In fact, this saying is about NOT needing courage.
Now courage is just fine. Courage is about going ahead in the face of fear. Depending on the circumstances, one could also call it bravery or honor, or on the other hand, bravado, or foolhardiness, or even insanity. But you can’t deny there is indeed good old-fashioned courage. The kind that fire fighters have when they rush into a burning building. Or a climber who goes for a challenging move. Or a person who speaks up about an injustice in the face of opposition. We hear and see a lot about courage. Movies deal with it. And books, both novels and books on leadership, sports, parenting. All that is good. But the courage of one’s convictions is not at all about courage. The saying is using courage as a metaphor.
The courage of one’s convictions is about doing something that looks positively terrifying to the rest of us, but doing it with ease because of one’s conviction about it. Conviction. This means belief. I believe in whatever it is so much, I am compelled to act, even in the face of danger. Grave danger. From the outside this looks like courage, because the person is going toward something that the rest of us fear. But in fact they aren’t fearful because they know they have to do it. There is no choice. Fear itself isn’t an option, does not exist in the face of the knowing, the conviction.
This is even more extraordinary to me than courage. Why? I guess because I have gritted through things before, but facing something that is scary without needing to gird my loins because I am so certain about it is something I have experienced less frequently in life. I wonder at the people who seem to have real conviction. I wonder where it comes from. Are they born with it? Does it get set off by something? Triggered? Does it grow over time until it is so full of power caution is thrown to the wind?
How does it work, exactly? And will I get my dose this life? And do I want it? Do I want conviction that causes me to march against all odds, appear crazy to others, perhaps lose all society? It seems glorious in retrospect to have been Joan of Arc, Galileo, Van Gogh, Gandhi. But what was it like then, when they were in it? And what about all those who had conviction and it turned out badly, like Hitler or Saddam, Nixon or Manson? Or even worse, those whose conviction cost them being cast out and unrecognized forever?
It’s a powerful thing, conviction. Especially if one has it in a large dose on something most people disagree with. Do you wish for it? Yearn for it? Or are you just glad, relieved even, that you weren’t given it?