In the Wizard of Oz, we meet the Cowardly Lion. His natural desire is to overcome his cowardly nature and he travels with Dorothy to ask the wizard for courage.
We understand that courage is to be desired by all. Even children can grasp the concept of doing the right thing, despite risks. We tell them stories of selfless acts and our nation has virtually deified Martin Luther King, Jr. Mr. King was one who never accepted the injustices he saw around him, but always respected the consequences of breaking them. He did not avoid arrest. Going to jail, or risking a beating (or worse) for the right cause was not something he avoided, but rather something he accepted. This action takes courage.
Acts of courage are recognized the world over as the material that makes up the best of man. Our own Medal of Honor, our highest military medal, is given for an act of courage. Courage is understanding the risks and choosing the take the difficult path despite fear. A fool can do good deeds, but can have no courage unless he understands the risks he is taking. It is the man who falls on the grenade who gets a medal. There can be no courage without risk.
Today, children have most of the risks of their lives removed. Even some of the smaller risks, such as attempting to succeed at sports, have had the possibility of failure removed from them. The movement towards increasing self esteem through constant praise and little to no negative feedback means there are no consequences to failure. Without consequences, there is no courage required in attempting anything. There is no risk at play.
With modern grade inflation, one of the first places in which a child may fail is getting into college. If you are offered a day off from school to protest, that takes no courage to take that day off. If you never receive criticism for your artistic skills, you will become very thin skinned when true criticism finally arrives. You may not have the courage to continue with it when you wilt the first time you receive a negative review. College is too late to be a first introduction to success and failure.
It takes courage for a boy to ask a girl out (I’m old fashioned, but that is how it was when I was a boy). He risks rejection and failure, but hopefully he grows from the experience. When he finds the right girl, he doesn’t duck into the background, but approaches her and smiles despite his fear. Practicing overcoming fear is excellent preparation for living a courageous life. The rewards for courage, for taking risks and being true to oneself, can make a life whole and satisfying.
Without being tested, we may never know the mettle of a man. But having opportunities for bravery encourage one to understand the consequences and teach one to overcome fear. Life has a way of testing us as we age. Without practice, we may not be prepared for what is to come. I fear our children may be in for a rude awakening as they grow to adulthood. They will quickly discover not every fall has a spongy landing. Not every time they try their best will it be good enough. The security they have experienced in their childhood was only an illusion. True self esteem comes from overcoming real risks. We need to teach them to keep striving and to keep fighting.