Guest Column: Courage

The May PACE Character Trait is Courage:  displaying integrity in spite of obstacles and challenges.

Courage.  What a powerful word! What do you think of when you hear the word courage?  Possibly a firefighter rushing into a burning building to save the person trapped inside with no concern for their own safety?  Or a bystander jumping into a raging river to save a drowning person?  Words like “hero”, “strength” and “bravery” come to mind.

As a bit of an introduction, I am an orthodontist and I do not spend my day facing life threatening events.  When I first thought about writing this article, my thoughts were to write about my experiences in the Air Force, about physical courage as exemplified by our young military men and women, our police and firefighters.  But the more I thought about it I wondered what does courage really mean?  There are many famous quotes about courage. According to Mark Twain “Courage is not the absence of fear. It is acting in spite of it” or as John Wayne put it “Courage is being scared to death… and saddling up anyway.”

The dictionary defines courage as the ability to act in the face of fear, bodily danger or even death, to do something you know is difficult or dangerous. Physical courage is the mental quality that recognizes fear or danger but enables a person to take a risk and proceed in spite of it.

Consider the origin of the word courage. The root of the word is the Latin word cor, or heart.  In Middle English (1250- 1300) the word corage meant “the heart as a source of feelings, spirit, confidence.”  Courage is a heart word, the ability to act according to one’s beliefs and convictions; to follow one’s heart.  Moral courage is the ability recognize what you believe is right, and to act accordingly despite criticism, popular opposition, shame, scandal, or discouragement.  It is the courage to follow your heart. Courage is the decision to do the more difficult right.

Social activists, such as Martin Luther King and Nelson Mandela chose to speak out against injustice at great personal risk. Innovators and entrepreneurs such as Steve Job and Walt Disney risked financial loss by persevering in the face of the unknown, the unpredictable. Business leaders make decisions that are better for their customers and employees but might not be better for their profit margin. Decisions are made to reduce pollution for the betterment of our world, even if it may lose votes and cost more money to take these precautions.  These are people who portray courage through their actions to support their beliefs, to follow their heart.  Courage acknowledges fear and uncertainty, but perseveres because of conviction, beliefs and personal resolve.

Few of us will likely be faced with life threatening events that might challenge our physical courage.  However, we are all faced daily with events where our moral courage is tested.  As I think about the people that Partners Advancing Character Education (PACE) are reaching out to, I think of students and families we meet each day that exhibit courage in the face of significant challenges. Among these challenges might be:

-Attempting a new sport or trying out for a team, not knowing whether it will work out, but taking that risk anyway

-Standing up for someone that is the brunt of teasing or bullying, adhering to values you believe are right, regardless of any embarrassment or repercussions from the “popular” crowd

-Knowing who you are and having the courage to be that person, not following the crowd and buckling under per pressure, but acknowledging your own true beliefs and honoring them

-Facing a challenge that frightens you, but meeting that challenge by doing something for no other reason than it is the right thing to do

Who is that person that overcomes their fears when the odds are against them?  Who is that person that exhibits the courage needed to stand up for what they believe is right? To follow their heart? Who is that person that is afraid of doing something but does it anyway, because it is the right thing to do?

Be that person. Know yourself. Be courageous.

Diane Paxton is an Orthodontist with offices in the Spokane Valley and on the South Hill.  She grew up in North Spokane, attended college and dental school at the University of Washington and Orthodontic specialty training at the University of California in San Francisco.  She served with the United States Air Force as a dentist and orthodontist for fourteen years before returning to Spokane in 1995.  Diane and her husband, Dr. Mark Paxton, live in the Spokane Valley, loving all the area has to offer.  She has two grown children who exemplify courage.  Chris is an Air Force pilot currently stationed in North Carolina and Lindsey is a lawyer working for victims of domestic violence in Wenatchee, Washington.  In addition to professional associations, Diane is active in the Providence Cleft Lip and Palate Board and on the Board of the Women Helping Women Fund.

Ellingsen-Paxton Orthodontics has been Silver Level supporters of the PACE Awards Program and proudly promote the PACE Character Trait of the Month in their offices.