COURAGE IS NOT A VIRTUE or value among other personal values like life or fidelity. It is the foundation that gives reality to all other virtues and personal values.Without courage our love pales into mere dependency. Without courage our fidelity becomes conformism. The word courage comes from the same stem as the French word “coeur”, meaning “heart.”
Thus just as one’s heart, by pumping blood to one’s brain, the brain enables all the other physical organs to function, so courage makes possible all the psychological virtues. Without courage other values wither away into mere facsimiles of virtue. People attain worth and dignity by the multitude of decisions they make from day to day. These decisions require courage. This is why Paul Tillich speaks of courage as ontological – it is essential to our being.
A curious paradox characteristic of every kind of courage confronts us. It is the seeming contradiction that we must be fully committed, but we must also be aware at the same time that we might possibly be wrong.
This dialectic relationship between conviction and doubt is characteristic of the highest types of courage, and gives the lie to the simplistic definitions that identify courage with mere growth. People who claim to be
absolutely convinced that their stand is the only right one are dangerous. Such conviction is the essence not only of dogmatism, but of its more destructive cousin, fanaticism. It blocks off the user from learning new
truth, and it is a dead giveaway of unconscious doubt. The person then has to double their protests in order to quiet not only the opposition but their own unconscious doubts as well. Paul Cezanne strongly believed that he was discovering and painting a new form of space which would
radically influence the future of art, yet he was at the same time filled with painful and ever-present doubts. The relationship between commitment and doubt is by no means an antagonistic one. Commitment is healthiest
when it is not without doubt, but in spite of doubt. To believe fully and at the same moment to have doubts is not at all a contradiction: it presupposes a greater respect for truth, an awareness that truth always goes beyond anything that can be said or done at any given moment. To every thesis there is an antithesis, and to this there is
a synthesis. Truth is thus a never-dying process.
Creative courage is the most important kind of courage of all. Whereas moral courage is the righting of wrongs, creative courage, in contrast, is the discovering of new forms, new symbols, new patterns on which a new society can be built. Every profession can and does require some creative courage. In our day, technology and engineering, diplomacy, business, and certainly teaching, all of these professions and scores of others are
in the midst of radical change and require courageous persons to appreciate and direct this change. The need for creative courage is in direct proportion to the degree of change the profession is undergoing. But those who present directly and immediately the new forms and symbols are the artists – dramatists,the musicians, the painters, the dancers and poets. They portray the new symbols in the form of images – poetic, aural, plastic or dramatic. They live out their imaginations. The symbols only dreamed about by most humans are expressed in graphic form by the artists. But in our appreciation of the created work –
let us say a Mozart quintet – we are performing a creative act. When we engage a painting, which we have to do especially with modern art if we are authentically to see it, we are experiencing some new moment of
sensibility. Some new vision is triggered in us by our contact with the painting; something unique is born in us. This is why appreciation of the music or painting or other works of a creative person is also a creative act on our part. If these symbols are to be understood by us, we must identify with them as we perceive them.
Artists can portray significant experiences in music or words or clay or marble or paint because they express what Jung called the “collective unconscious.” This phrase may not be the most descriptive, but we know that each of us carries in buried dimensions of our being some basic forms, partly generic and partly experiential in origin. It is these the artist expresses. Thus all creative artists give us a “distant early warning” of what is happening in our culture. In the art of our day we see symbols galore of alienation and anxiety, but at the same time there is form amid discord, beauty amid ugliness, some human love in the midst of hatred – a love that temporarily triumphs over death but always loses out in the long
run. The artists thus express the spiritual meaning of their culture. Our problem is: Can we read their meaning right?
Take Giotto in what is called the “little Renaissance”, which burgeoned in the fourteenth century. In contrast to the two-dimensional medieval mosaics, Giotto presents a new way of seeing life and nature: he gives his paintings three dimensions, and we now see human beings and animals expressing and calling forth from us such specific human emotions as care or pity or grief or joy. In the previous, two-dimensional mosaics in the churches of the Middle Ages, we feel no human being is necessary to see them – they have their own relationship to God. But in Giotto, a human
being viewing the picture is required; and this human being must take his stance as an individual in relation to the picture. Thus the new humanism and the new relation to nature that were to become central in the
Renaissance are here born, a hundred years before the Renaissance proper. In our endeavor to grasp these symbols of art, we find ourselves in a realm that beggars our usual conscious thinking. Our task is quite
beyond the reach of logic. It brings us to an area in which there are many paradoxes.
We have all had those odd experiences of understanding, but we tend to cover them over.We may look at an autumn tree so beautiful in its brilliant colors that we feel like weeping; or we have heard music so lovely that we are overcome with sadness. The craven thought then creeps into our
consciousness is that maybe it would have been better not to have seen the tree at all or not to have heard the music. Then we wouldn’t be faced with this uncomfortable paradox – knowing that “time will come and take my love away,” that everything we love will die. But the essence of being human is that, in the brief moment we exist on this spinning planet,
we can love some persons and some things, in spite of the fact that time and death will ultimately claim us all. That we yearn to stretch the brief moment, to postpone our death a year or so is surely understandable. But such postponement is bound to be a frustrating and ultimately a losing battle. By the creative act, however, we are able to reach beyond our own death. This is why creativity is so important and why we need to confront the problem of the relationship between creativity and death.
(end part 3)