Courage is not just having the strength to stand up for what you believe in. Courage is more than being able to do the “right thing” when the whole world seems to be against you. Courage is not simply the lack of fear, but the ability to do something in spite of fear.
When I see news stories about firefighters who jumped into raging flames to save a child or soldiers who died defending their comrades, I think to myself: now that’s courage. But you don’t need to save a life or take a stand in the public eye to be courageous. In fact, I realized that sometimes the most difficult situation in which to summon up courage is one that is out of the spotlight; for example, on the side of a New York City street.
After living in New York for about four months, I’ve already lost count of the number of homeless individuals I’ve seen – and passed by wordlessly – in my day to day travels. After reading about the amazingly perspective-changing interactions with homeless people that the interns before me have shared, I vowed to take the initiative to reach out to the next person I see sitting on the sidewalk or asking for change.
It should be so easy. Just start by asking their name, like you would do with anyone you just met. I’m not inviting them to come live with me or even buying them a meal. What is there to be daunted by? Yet each time, I still find myself passing by, albeit with a twinge of regret and something like shame. Sometimes I’m with friends, sometimes I’m by myself. Regardless of the situation, I still find myself lack the courage to take that first step. Maybe I’m afraid of rejection or maybe I fear being judged by those around me.
Taking the B train to Bryant Park about a week ago, I witnessed a scene that both amazed and humbled me. A man walked into the subway car and started soliciting those on board for money or food. I’d seen this many times before. One man reached for his wallet and threw in some change while the rest of my fellow passengers were either absorbed in their smartphones or looked around a little uncomfortably. As I bit my lip, wondering if I should contribute to the hat he was holding out, I heard a woman’s voice calling out tensely, with a trace of fear and anger, “Where do you think you’re going?” I turned my head and saw a little girl, probably no older than 10, running towards the man with a bag of bread. Boldly ignoring her mother’s cries, she handed over the bread with a solid “Here you go.”
In a matter of seconds, this young girl had done what I couldn’t accomplish with hours of deliberation. Perhaps what I – and many of us – need to adopt is a more child-like disposition in order to dispel the fears and doubts that arise from learned judgments. This is courage of a very different kind, but it is no less admirable.
About the author:
Whitney Zhou is the Campus Chapter and Community Partner Associate for KNO. She is a first-year student at New York University.