Courage comes
in many forms

Magazine: Building on courage – October 2022

Courage – what does that even mean?

Courage is the ability to do something dangerous, or to face pain or opposition, without showing fear.

[Fundamental] willingness to do what one deems right in the face of expected disadvantages.

Source: Oxford Dictionaries


What happens in our brain when we feel courageous?

Israeli researchers have tried to identify the origins of courage in the human brain. They defined courage as taking a certain action, even though one was previously fearful of such action. They confronted test subjects with a snake, which they could move closer to the subjects’ faces by pressing a button. This tested the body’s stress reactions and the activity of certain areas of the brain. In one of these areas in the brain, the so-called Brodmann area 25, activity levels rose in parallel to the fear that the test subjects overcame. The researchers suspect that it is this brain activity which enables people to behave courageously, by suppressing the fear response within the body.

The most courageous animal

The most fearless animal in the world is not the lion, the eagle or the tiger, but the honey badger. This species of marten is relatively unknown to us, but in Africa, India and the Arabian peninsula, it is considered the bravest of all animals. And rightly so: despite weighing no more than 13 kilos, it holds its own against lions, leopards and even buffaloes and can withstand a bite from poisonous snakes. If the honey badger feels threatened, it confronts its adversary – no matter how big and powerful – with a furious snarl and wide-open jaws. Its front legs with their long claws and its sharp teeth are effective weapons. The honey badger gets its name because of its habit of plundering beehives.

Courage is diverse

Courage has many faces – and there are numerous expressions to describe this state of mind. Their application always depends on the context in which they are needed. And, more importantly, not all of these words can be used in every setting. Here is a selection of synonyms for courage.

Testing our courage helps our personal development

Putting our courage to the test is part of human life. Children and young people demonstrate this when they dare one another to do things: walk through the cemetery at night, jump off the diving board into the swimming pool, eat earthworms, touch a stinging nettle and so on. So long as these tests of courage aren’t dangerous or illegal, they can have a positive effect on our personal development. This is how adolescents learn to overcome their fears and set benchmarks for themselves, as well as stand up for weaker people and admit their mistakes. This is important experience, because – as adults – they will also be constantly faced with situations where courage is required.