Have you ever experienced that feeling when courage stirs in your heart and fear retreats? It is a marvelous, disinhibiting sensation.  Sometimes it takes the form of a major accomplishment for you but one trivialized by outside observers: the person with obsessive-compulsive disorder fighting back a compulsion, the man with social phobia stepping out the door, the child who stutters doing a speech in front of the class, the woman with dyslexia reading to her son.

Imagine you are at a nearby theme park and hundreds of people are lining up for rides. A man with a life-long fear of heights gets into his seat on the ride that goes 300 feet straight up to the sky, then plummets back down to the earth with nauseating velocity. You don’t even notice him but, in a little bubble around him, something great has happened: he has put his butt in that seat.  It doesn’t matter if he screams, or cries, or pees. It doesn’t matter if he never gets more than 2 feet off the ground for the rest of his life. He has demonstrated more courage than any daredevil in the history of the world.

Then there is the less localized brand of courage. The courage of true heroes like Martin Luther King Jr., Nelson Mandela, Rosa Marks, Abraham Lincoln, and countless others who have gone against the grain and stood up for their beliefs in one way or another, and often suffered heinously for it.

There are the lesser known heroes like Frank Kameny, who was a long-fighting and forerunning gay civil rights activist, who passed away last October. Kameny was fired from his position as a federal employee in 1957 when it was discovered that he was gay. At a time when most people would have just slipped into hiding with their tails between their legs, Kameny protested his firing all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court and, though he did not win his case in the end, he is a man who should be honoured for his fearlessness. It doesn’t matter what your personal beliefs are: this was a man who had the courage to stand up for his beliefs, and that should be respected.

There are heroes like Helen Keller, who fought against the greatest obstacles, and Anne Sullivan, who trudged past all of the naysayers and believed in her student.

Inside all of these heroes was a common element: courage.  Today, I am thankful for courage, because it has inspired great heroes to do great things, and I believe my world is a better place because of it.

In the Comments, please share with me your stories of personal courage or the courage of others you know.