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To My Sons: Courage

Sheridan Taylor

In which our hero encourages his sons, and you, dear reader, to build courage to achieve goals and battle mental illness.

“Courage” comes from ancient Latin word, “Cor,” meaning “heart.” Oxford defines “courage” as: the ability to do something that frightens one, or strength in the face of pain or grief. Merriam-Webster defines “courage” as: mental or moral strength to venture, persevere, and withstand danger, fear, or difficulty. Cambridge defines “courage” as: the ability to control your fear in a dangerous or difficult situation.

I can’t teach you courage. But you can learn courage. You can teach you courage. I can try to model courage for you. I can try to inspire you to be courageous. But I can’t force you to be courageous.

Courage doesn’t mean being unafraid or not being able to feel fear. If you’re not afraid and do something and do it, no matter how much it might frighten someone else, that’s not being brave, it’ s just doing something. If you can’t feel fear, you’re deeply mentally unwell. Courage is being afraid and doing what you have too anyway.

My greatest act of courage had nothing to do with my military service. My greatest act of courage was not killing myself and continuing to struggle towards mental health every day. My greatest act of courage was to go on living. For you and your mother.

You can teach yourself to be courageous. You can teach yourself to follow Rule One. It takes tremendous courage to only speak the truth. You can teach yourself to follow Rule Two. It takes tremendous courage to always keep your word. You can teach yourself to follow Rule Three. It takes tremendous courage to work your hardest at everything you do.

The Rules teach you to be courageous. You can’t make excuses for failure or letting others down. You force yourself to be accountable. You can’t run away, figuratively, or literally. You force yourself to stand your ground, morally or physically, no matter what the situation. No matter what form adversity or hardship takes. Pain, fear, grief, doubt, etc., cannot stop you if you choose to be courageous and push through them.

You can teach yourself to be courageous by allowing yourself to feel vulnerable and letting others know you feel that way. You can teach yourself to be courageous by being humble instead of hiding your fear behind overcompensation and by being curious instead of hiding behind arrogance. You can teach yourself to be courageous by doing what you fear most; it’s probably what you need to do the most.

Not succeeding is embarrassing, but it isn’t something to fear. Not succeeding is how we learn. It’s easy to quit then, but surrendering to fear of embarrassment only guarantees failure. Embarrassment isn’t lethal, and it can often gain you a friend if you face it with courage.

Struggle gives us clarity. Even if you don’t succeed, you learn a way not to do something and gain deeper understanding of yourself, of your true capabilities. Adversity and pain, physical or emotional, can make us stronger, if we choose to learn and push on.

I can tell you these things, but I cannot make you do these things. Courage is like your muscles. You can make it stronger by exercising it regularly and pushing it to its limits often. Or you can fail to use it, and it’ll fail you.

Quitting will burn your soul with shame, and making up excuses is only telling lies. The problem is, we can’t lie to ourselves. Our conscience lives with us, and we see our reflections every day.

Don’t be afraid to fail, be afraid of not knowing who you could really be if you pushed through fear of failure. Adversity teaches us who we are, and who we can become. Courage is doing what you need to do and never quitting. Courage is how we learn our character and build it from there. I love you.