December 30, 2010

Courage versus Bravery

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There is no shortage of bravery in the Aurora Police Department. I have worked alongside of many men and women throughout my career who did not hesitate to run towards the sound of gunfire or to jump fences in pursuit of an armed suspect.

I originally believed the law enforcement profession attracted these “fearless” individuals who think nothing of putting their own lives on the line for strangers in the name of preserving justice. Since bravery is the ability to persevere despite fear, pain, and risk of danger, it would seem that those without bravery need not apply.

Over the years, I’ve come to realize that bravery is not as difficult as it seems. Ask any person who has put themselves at risk to help another and they will tell you that they simply acted without thought. When a person falls, it is our instinct to extend an arm and help. This is why a soldier or police officer often refutes accolades after an act of heroism by responding, “I was just doing my job.”

Because it is inherent in our nature to help each other, we are all just “doing our jobs” as human beings. The only difference between police officers and the common citizen is the hours of training that make officers more confident and equipped to face dangerous situations. As Aristotle pointed out, we become brave by doing brave acts.

I’m sure many will dispute this belief by saying that they could never do the job of a police officer or firefighter. Over the years, I’ve heard many people say that confronting a suspect in a home invasion or running into a home engulfed in flames is not on their list of things to accomplish. I challenge that when confronted with a situation where you must act immediately in order to prevent a catastrophe or save a life, most would do so without pausing to consider the risk.

Bravery is not as difficult as it appears to be. Courage on the other hand, is quite rare. Bravery and courage are often used synonymously but they are not the same. Physical bravery is to act upon instinct while moral courage is the thing that sets the truly courageous apart from all the others. It can manifest in seemingly minuscule ways or it can be magnificent in magnitude. It is the strength to stand firmly grounded while those around you scurry to align themselves to the majority opinion.

The “Thin Blue Line” is an emblem representing the camaraderie of police officers signifying their unity and solidarity. Over the years, the term has taken on a negative connotation and may now depict corruption and cover-up of those officers who tarnish the badge. Fortunately, policing has evolved whereby the thin blue line of protecting those corrupt officers has faded considerably because of courageous police leaders who in their own organizations have declared it intolerable. Even more courageous are the line level officers who stand up in defiance of corruption and boldly police themselves and their comrades.

Being courageous might simply mean thinking differently from everyone else and declaring as much. It is more common for a person to avoid promoting viewpoints outside the comfort zone of consensus thinking for fear of being seen as foolish, to avoid embarrassing themselves, or angering other members of a group. Cowardliness is choosing to protect one’s own interest rather than opposing an injustice. True courage means doing what you know is right, even at personal risk.

Resolve this New Year to practice more courage. Resolve to fight the urge to sit in silence when you know you should be speaking out. Resolve to stand up against a wrong when you know it would be easier to allow it to occur. Resolve to defend someone who deserves defending even if it will make you uncomfortable or unpopular. By practicing courage, you will become courageous.

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