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Courage and politics

“Life shrinks or expands in proportion to one’s courage” (Anaïs Nin)

If there’s one thing I’d like to have the power to give to the people I love, especially the little ones, it’s courage.

The courage to challenge cultural conditioning and social convention. The courage to allow oneself to see that “normality” is a construct and to ask, by whom is this concept constructed, for whose benefit, and how?

The courage to refuse the lazy tribal sense of belonging in order to embrace a more challenging sense of common humanity that does not require exclusionary practices in order to define a sense of who we are. I am not that therefore I am this, is a negative way in which to carve out an identity, yet the spoken or unspoken comparison that loads difference with moral value, or lack of it, serves as a benchmark for establishing who we are, singly and collectively.

I can’t see much of a future for humans without the kind of courage that is curious about difference, rather than fearful and hostile towards it. The former is expansion, the latter an arid shrinking, of the kind we’ve seen increasingly in Australia since our politics, both Labor and Liberal, have become more and more conservative.

Our courage, at least as it is expressed in our politics, has diminished alarmingly. Whether it’s asylum seekers in indefinite and tortuous detention because we will not resettle them; whether it’s our inability to recognise and adequately act upon our responsibilities towards the earth that is our only home; whether it’s increasing surveillance of ordinary citizens along with the deprivation of freedoms and human rights, the insidious creep of tyranny, wearing the mask of concern and wish to protect, is shrinking our lives, and we seem to lack the collective courage necessary first to acknowledge what’s happening to us, and second, to do something concrete about it.

I’m not the first to observe that without courage it’s hardly possible to be truthful, generous, realistic and imaginative, and without courage, it’s impossible to live a life of necessary self-examination, curiosity and fulfilment.

Lack of courage is what will destroy our species. It’s only a matter of time.

This article was originally published on No Place For Sheep.



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  1. Matters Not

    This resonates:

    The courage to allow oneself to see that “normality” is a construct and to ask, by whom is this concept constructed, for whose benefit, and how?

    ‘Normality’ and ‘reality’ are constructs? Most people would disagree. (Not me.)

    Supported by two further quotes from Anais Nin:

    There is not one big cosmic meaning for all, there is only the meaning we each give to our life, an individual meaning, an individual plot, like an individual novel, a book for each person.

    Understanding that humans give ‘meanings’ is crucial but difficult for most to comprehend. Then there’s this.

    We don’t see things as they are, we see them as we are.

    It would seem that for you ‘existence’ precedes ‘essence’. (Just joking). Really liked this piece, because it’s like a personal trip through time.

  2. Roswell

    Matters Not, it is a great compliment you give.

  3. mars08

    “The sin which is unpardonable is knowingly and wilfully to reject truth, to fear knowledge lest that knowledge pander not to thy prejudices.

    Unfortunately courage and knowledge are the things that our politicians intend to keep from us. They just want us to be afraid and ignorant.

  4. philgorman2014

    Admirable! Thank you.

    The human propensity to make meaning, is our greatest creative asset and potentially our most destructive vulnerability.

    As Carl Sagan said “we have such beautiful dreams and such terrible nightmares”.

    Courage and fear are as natural as breathing. Giving way to fear is easy, choosing courage is hard.

  5. Matters Not

    The human propensity to make meaning, is our greatest creative asset and potentially our most destructive vulnerability.

    But do ‘humans’ have any other option? Any other ‘choice’? (Other than to ‘make (or give) meaning’?)

    Perhaps they can choose not to choose? Perhaps they can simply adopt the ‘meanings’ which the ‘other’ has attributed?

    BTW, don’t fall into the trap of giving ‘meaning’ to what I write. Or Wilson’s piece as well.

    Easy, isn’t it? Or perhaps not?

  6. Sunday

    Technology takes up so much of our thinking time that it numbs us and dumbs us down.Everyone is so shit scared of offending;they’d rather take a pill.And basically sit in their comfort and are too lazy to stretch themselves.We are all living in a self in-forced haze of delusion. We are living in a 2015 version of the movie Pleasantville.

  7. Sen Nearly Ile

    Courage is natural. So there are many things, to give your children, that may encourage social courage.
    my half dozen:
    love of living things- fungi, flora and fauna.
    give and expect a fair go
    exposure to the wonders of Australian and foreign languages to overcome the american tv/film ooga booga culture.
    exposure to the music of cultures
    awareness that institutions are by men for men
    the ability to say anything, without rebuke, under the protection of the science concept of not wrong/right without evidence.
    A great read, but sadly, Jennifer, politicians operate in a collective world where the individual lies about singular importance, without the requirement of evidence and the media needs the money of sex, violence and perfidy.

  8. Jennifer Wilson

    Thank you for all these comments – and the quotes – and the sense that there are many ways to consider these things.

  9. Alison White

    There appears to be a rediscovery of Plato inherent in the underlying concept that we create our own reality. This has mathematical (as close as we get to measuring and evaluating shared reality) evidence as quantum physics has proven that matter is in a state of potentiality until it is observed into form. The natural unobserved state of everything in the universe is flux, and, as a recollection of a memory is indentical to the actual experience of the remembered event then we have to accept that our brains created that reality in the first place. Makes my brain ache with the enormity of the implications. I’m starting large and willing my reality to include a lottery win in the near future – merely as an experiment of course.

  10. Douglas Pye

    … it has been remarked that ‘ Courage ‘ stands as a worthy attribute … whereas it’s opposite is (indeed) …. ‘ Conformity ‘ … rather than ( widely accepted ) … ‘ Cowardice ‘ ! … certainly worth pondering ! ? … with respect …

  11. mars08

    @Douglas Pye…. and what of those who think “courage” means dismissing “political correctness” and spreading hatred against isolated, vulnerable minorities? Unfortunately they see themselves at the intrepid defenders of their besieged civilisation.

  12. Abbie

    Great piece.

    The gift (the greatest besides Love) I bestowed upon my children and now grandchild is the encouragement of Curiosity.
    Those who walk amongst us who have no concept of nor practise in or any innate curiosity are the weakest link (imo).
    Curiosity breaks down all barriers and batters down that which blocks humans into tight tied down thoughts.

    With curiosity the world its people and ideas are opened up forever waiting to be explored.

    Those without Curiosity seem to be drawn to the soul destroying careers of Politics or Religion.
    Sad for they wield such great influence and power over most us and the way our Nation behaves and reacts.

  13. mars08

    @Abbie… Re your comment…

    “We can easily forgive a child who is afraid of the dark; the real tragedy of life is when men are afraid of the light.”

  14. Jeffrey

    15 years ago I was told Australia is a nation of idiots. Naive, gullible and far too stupid for their own good. He said he would prove it.

    I didnt believe it at first.

    But now?

    Proven beyond all doubt!

  15. LOVO

    G’day Jeffery, I was just wondering, and hopefully not sounding to much like an idiot, but whom is the ‘He’ that said he would prove it. I hope I am not, seemingly, being too naïve in not understanding whom is the ‘He’… but I ‘trust’ you will inform me as to whom is the ‘He’ knowing, as ya do, that I, as an Australian, have neither the capacity nor the acumen either……….. and that’s a given….. apparently, ay! Cheers

    I’ll just wait here then shall I……………….

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