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What Makes an Act Courageous?
This last week has been a bit strange on the writing front - I've mentally written a lot of posts, but I haven't actually written them. Now we'll just have to see whether they actually materialize into something worth reading.
The reason for the strangeness of the week has been due to me being on military orders for Annual Training. I had a huge list of things that I needed to have my company and myself do - so that took some time, but the real reason was mostly psychological. It's always that switch for me when I start working to time and not to task.
Needless to say, I'm back.
Since this weekend was really busy, I didn't get to put a Food For Thought post out. The pondering this week is a result of the conversation between me and Bill in the comments of 12 Ways to Practice Courage. What's bothered me for a long time is what makes a particular act courageous. (It didn't help that Kelly had a post some while ago about the most daring thing she's ever done - that started me thinking about it all over again and I declined to comment.)
Before we start, this is not purely an academic point that I'm presenting. It's prompted by situations I've been in.
I've been in mortal danger no less than five times throughout my life. I could talk about all of them, but it'd be a really long post that may or may not be interesting. The one that really pops into my mind, though, is from a convoy gone...weird...in Iraq. I'll keep it as short as possible.
On said weird convoy, we ended up going through a largish town during Market Day. Going through towns during Market Day is very much akin to driving 30 tractor-trailers through the middle of a fair - people and animals are everywhere, meandering with their wares, and really, really pissed that this huge trucks are coming through the middle of it. It doesn't help that those trucks have people with guns, and some of those people are quick to point them at you.
My convoy also had the fortune of escorting Third Country National drivers - so for every one military truck, we had two or three TCN trucks. These guys were usually scared shitless because they had no idea where they were going, couldn't speak English, and they knew they were in danger.
What would inevitably happen in these types of situations is that a TCN truck would not follow the truck in front of it closely enough and people and goats would start running between that truck and the one in front of it. The natural thing to do is to stop, because running over people is not something people naturally do. Once that one vehicle stops, it becomes a crosswalk from one side of the market to the other. The end result is that you end up with your convoy cut in half - and that's bad.
Once our guntruck had ended the crosswalk situation, the second half of the convoy rushed to catch up with the first. In the excitement, another of our TCN drivers hit a curb really hard and the generator he had poorly secured on his trailer fell off...in the middle of Market Day. He stopped - and he was the third to last truck of the convoy. Still left in the convoy was my mechanic's truck, my truck, and the trailing guntruck.
The crowd, out of curiosity, immediately swarmed that truck and the generator. There was no moving of any of the vehicles. My mechanic radioed up, but I still couldn't see what was going on, so I got out of my truck to go see.
The crowd parted around me with a buffer of about 3 feet and then would close up behind me. For about 75 meters this happened - and I was completely isolated from my truck and my driver.
(I doubt many of you are transporters, so I have to make clear two major points: being unable to move your truck is terrifying, and being isolated from your truck with a crowd of neutral to hostile people is bone-chilling terrifying.)
As I approached the mechanic's truck, it began to dawn on me that we were in a bad situation - for he had that "deer-in-the-headlights, what-do-we-do, I'm-scared" look on his face. The only two things that went through my mind were 1) please, Specialist, don't start shooting, and 2) we have to get the fuck out of here. If he started shooting, dozens of people would have died, because everybody would have started shooting. And if we didn't get out of there, something bad was going to happen.
There was no way to recover the generator, and we had to get out there, so I went against standing orders, placed an incendiary grenade on the generator, and we left (the crowd parted enough due to the intimidation of our guntruck.)
(I've left out a lot of detail to make the story shorter.)
Only when we meet up with the rest of our convoy outside of town did I realize what how bad that situation was. It would have been really easy for someone to jump from the crowd with a knife, or shovel, or any of the other tools they were carrying and overwhelm me. There were people walking on the rooftops with AK-47s.
But at the time, I didn't think about any of that. I didn't worry about my personal safety and I didn't think about the danger I was in. My overriding thoughts were: 1) please, Troops, don't start shooting, and 2) we have to get the fuck out of here.
I didn't sit in the truck to deliberate what was the courageous thing to do. I didn't fight the urge to sit in the truck because it didn't really dawn on me that I had the option of sitting in the truck.
None of this is meant to be bragging or boasting, but rather, I'm just making it clear that I wasn't thinking about the actions I was taking. I was just acting.
But is "just acting" worthy of moral praise? For it seems to me that a lot of people "just act," but they act badly. The married man who can't control his sexual urges comes to mind here - for, presented with certain situations, he can reasonably say he was just acting. He didn't mean to hurt his wife - he didn't think about it. But the fact that he didn't think about it doesn't seem to make any difference to the nature of his actions - although if he did it knowing it would hurt his wife or so that he would hurt his wife, that seems worse.
Of course, if the analysis for courage works, then it should work for truthfulness, friendliness, and the other virtues. If it's the act itself that counts, why do we stress intentions?
What do you think?
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