"Our first clue lies in the word's derivation, from the Latin cor (the root of coeur in French and cuore in Italian), meaning 'heart.' What is it to act from one's heart? This is not some soft, New Age metaphor for doing whatever we want, what pleases us most. I believe that the word's root reveals that, when we act courageously, we are responding to our deepest selves, often unknown until the moment of being tested – what O'Donohue describes as 'a courageous hospitality towards what is difficult, painful and unknown.'
"Why is it then that the courageous act feels so utterly natural? Nothing is forced. It is a feeling of opening up to who we are most authentically, against all odds, and withstanding all risks. Who we are in that moment feels in perfect alignment with who we recognize our true self to be, and what defines us.
"Many confuse courage with fearlessness, but the courageous are actually very intimate with fear and have moved through it to the other shore. In the words of Nelson Mandela, 'I learned that courage was not the absence of fear, but the triumph over it. The brave man is not he who does not feel afraid, but he who conquers that fear.'
"There is a strong element of faith in courage – faith in the truth of who we are and where that will lead us, faith in what we are doing and its importance and value in the lives of others.
"Courage shows up in our lives in thousands of unexpected ways. Forgiving can be an act of courage. Reconciliation can take courage. Deciding not to fight can sometimes be as courageous as charging into battle. Activism and ferociously committing one's life to benefit others can tap into great courage. Standing up to bullies and terrorists requires courage, as does undergoing surgery and cancer treatments, and giving birth. Falling in love and creating art are both courageous in their own ways. Learning a new skill, starting a business, and athletic achievement can require determined courage. There is tremendous courage in comforting the dying, asking for help, and taking great risks for great causes. Living with compassion and an open heart can also require courage of a different stripe. In my own life, I'm learning the courage required by aging.
"The defining core of courage is love. Without love, courage is not possible. Acts of bravado, yes – but true courage is the natural outgrowth of our love of all that we hold dear, of the preciousness of each human life and a deep belief that what we love matters. Without love, there is nothing at stake, nothing to fight for."