Courageism Interview: From The Beginning, Scott Somerville

February 21, 2006 — 7 Comments

Agent Tim: For those who haven’t heard the story, or are still at a loss, what’s the story behind this word courageism? Where did it come from?

Scott Somerville: The word is the obvious opposite of “terrorism.” It sprang into my head along with a million other thoughts on September 11, 2001, as I stood outside in my suburban Maryland street and watched fighter jets scream overhead. I live 30 minutes away from the Washington Monument, well within the affected area of any successful nuclear attack. “What do I do now?” I asked myself. “Should I sell my house and move my family back to the depths of West Virginia, where I’m from? How can I be safe?”
Then I realized that “safe” couldn’t be the answer any more. The world had changed. If our goal is “safety,” then we will always be playing defense in a game the terrorists choose. That’s when I decided to become a “courageist.”


Agent Tim: How would you define courageism
?

Scott S.: Courageism is the opposite of terrorism and the only counter to it. “Terrorism” means different things to different people, and so, to a degree, does “courageism.” The difference is that everybody wants to be a “courageist” and nobody wants to be a “terrorist.”

Aristotle’s definition of “courage” in the Nicomachean Ethics, Book III, Chapter 7 is the soundest starting place. “The man, then, who faces and who fears the right things and from the right motive, in the right way and from the right time, and who feels confidence under the corresponding conditions, is brave.” Mere “bravery” is not enough for true “courage,” though. Aristotle continues, “But courage is noble. Therefore the end also is noble; for each thing is defined by its end. Therefore it is for a noble end that the brave man endures and acts as courage directs.”

Courage means facing the right fear the right way for noble reasons. A man who jumps out of airplanes faces his fear, but skydivers jump out of planes for a passing thrill or a boost to their ego. “Extreme sports” push the limits of what a human can face, but not for “noble” ends. Real “courage” demands more.

“Courageism” is not just “courage, however, any more than “terrorism” is just “terror.” True “courageism” involves some real risk of death or maiming, just as “terrorism” requires more than damage to property or reputation.


Agent Tim: What’s an example of courageism?

Scott S.: The jihadists call a person who straps a bomb to his chest a “martyr.” We call him a “terrorist.” A “courageist” would be a person who willingly faces the man with the bomb to try to stop him before he can hurt others.

A good fictional example would be Atticus Finch, the father in “To Kill a Mockingbird.” He spent all night guarding his client, a black man accused of rape, from the mob that came to the jailhouse door to lynch him. He faced down the mob the right way, for the right reasons, and for a noble cause.


Agent Tim: Why do we need a new word? Why not stick with the good old “courage”?

Scott S.: Courage is a virtue; “courageism” is a movement. We need a movement now. A new generation is growing up into terrorism in some parts of the Middle East. Young people in the West can grow up demanding a safety that is no longer certain, or nobly face their fears.

We need a new word because conservatives and Christians too easily overlook the heroism of many ordinary Muslims who are already champions of “courageism.” In America, if you stand up for what is right, you may suffer negative consequences but you aren’t usually in any physical danger. A student may get a lower grade for challenging his professor’s pet position: his professor is unfair, but not a “terrorist. By contrast, every purple finger in the Middle East is a genuine act of “courageism,” and we need to draw attention to that fact.

We need a new word because nobody will call himself an “appeaser,” even though his every act is one of submission to extortion. “Courageism” separates the sheep from the goats. “Courageists” believe there are things worth dying for and those who don’t. Those who reject the concept of “courageism” act as if death were the ultimate evil. It is not!

Agent Tim: Who do you believe is an example of courageism?

Scott S.: There are too many examples to list! But some obvious categories and examples are:
* Prophets: Elijah, Jeremiah, John the Baptist, Stephen the Martyr,
* Apostles: Eleven of the twelve apostles died rather than recant. Only John died of old age.
* Martyrs: Stephen, the first Christian martyr, and countless others who died under the rule of Nero, Domitian… Stalin, Hitler, Mao… etc., etc.
* Patriots: Every signer of the Declaration of Independence, pledging their fortunes, lives, and sacred honor for freedom.
* Nonviolent Protesters: Mahatma Gandhi, Rosa Parks, Martin Luther King, Jr.
* Missionaries: Jim Elliot, Nate Saint, and the others who died taking the Gospel to the Aucas; and even more remarkably, Elisabeth Elliot and Rachel Saint who went to the tribe that had murdered them.
* Dissidents: Dietrich Bonhoeffer in Germany, Aleksandr Sozzhenitsyn in Russia; the lone Chinese student in Tiananmen Square; etc.
* Police officers: Day after day, the men and women on the “thin blue line” risk their lives to hold back human evil.
* Firefighters: These men and women plunge into earthly hells to save humans and their homes from Nature’s wrath.
* Soldiers: The “Greatest Generation” that stopped the Nazi death machine; today’s all-volunteer army in Iraq.
* Heroes: Todd Beamer and the others who resisted Al Qaeda on board Flight 93 in 2001; Ashley Smith, the single mother in Atlanta who shard the Gospel with the fugitive who shot a judge and several other people and then took her hostage in 2005; etc., etc.


Agent Tim: How would you encourage young men and women to show “courageism”?

Scott S.: Routinely ask yourself, “What do I fear?” You don’t get a chance to face down death on a regular basis, but you deal with fear every day. What are you afraid of losing? What are you afraid you’ll never find? What do you cling to? The approval of others? Pleasure? Independence? Pride?

If there is anything you crave that leads you to do what you know is wrong, you are not ready to face death yet. If you can’t overcome your own fear of rejection at the hands of your peer group, you probably aren’t ready to face down a terrorist. That is not to say that risking ridicule is “courageism.” It isn’t. But if you can’t risk ridicule, you aren’t ready for death.


Agent Tim: Before we end this interview, could you clear something up for me…do you believe the cartoonists in Denmark were showing courageism, or do they fall outside of our definition of courageism?

Scott S.: It depends. A “hater” and a “lover” could draw identical cartoons for opposite reasons. Someone who loves liberty could risk death for the best of reasons, while a person who hates Muslims might be willing to sacrifice his own safety in order to make them suffer. One would be a “courageist” and the other wouldn’t.

I prefer to give people the benefit of the doubt if at all possible. Since I don’t know the motives of the cartoonists, I will start by assuming they risked their lives out of a love for freedom. Freedom is a noble end, so we can presume the Danish cartoonists are “courageists” until we learn something new to make us change that opinion.


Agent Tim: Okay, here we end. What else would you like to say about courageism?

Scott S.: “Courageism” should be second nature for Christians, simple for other believers, and challenging–but not impossible—for secular materialists. Christians are supposed to love their enemies as they long for Christ’s appearing. Christians should fear only God and sin, and every day gives us new opportunities to face those fears with the right attitude in the right way.

“Courageism” may be harder for people who practice a religion that depends on human effort for salvation. A wicked man who believes in Hell should be afraid to die; his conscience may hinder him from doing what needs to be done at the moment of the crisis. A self-righteous man might be ashamed to shrink from death, but “self” is not a noble end worth dying for.

“Courageism” is hardest for the person who thinks this life is all there is. The materialist may cry, “Give me liberty or give me death,” but it is hard to hold life lightly when death is so final. The passengers on Flight 93 had nothing to lose when they rose up against the hijackers, but the average American has so much to cling to. That is why the terrorists are so effective: they threaten our secular safety.

Previous And Extras:
Courageism Word Essay
Interview With Daryl Cobranchi
Scott’s Blog
Rhetorical Response’s Response

Tim Sweetman

Posts

Tim Sweetman is a young writer, blogger, and student who lives near our nation’s capital, Washington D.C. He has been much more widely known by his “code-name,” Agent Tim. This name also served as the name of his popular blog, which received over 750,000 visits between 2005 to 2007. In 2005, he quickly rose to become a leading teenage spokesperson and cultural critic within the booming blogosphere, taking on issues such as MySpace, alcohol, homeschooling, pride, racism, tolerance, and other topics relating to our culture today. His blog has come to the attention of people such as Albert Mohler, C.J. Mahaney, Alex and Brett Harris, and La Shawn Barber. Tim’s written work has appeared in Lifeway’s Living With Teenagers (February 2012), Lookout Magazine, FUSION Magazine, The Brink Online, The Old Schoolhouse Magazine, Virtue Magazine, Regenerate Our Culture Online Magazine, and on many other blogs and websites across the internet like Marry Well and the Lies Young Women Believe Blog. He has also been featured in WORLD Magazine, The Towers Magazine, and Maryland Newsline. He is scheduled to have an article appear in Veritas Magazine this December. Most recently, his work can be found on Focus on the Family’s Boundless Webzine. His personal interests include writing (surprise!) and sports, both watching and playing. He is a die-hard Washington Redskins fan.

7 responses to Courageism Interview: From The Beginning, Scott Somerville

  1. Wonderful interview! That cleared up a lot of confusion for me between the words “courage” and “courageism”. Thank you both!

  2. A quote I read the other day while doing some research. really clinches the whole terrorism/couragism thing I think.

    “Courage without conscience is a wild beast.” Robert G. Ingersoll

  3. Fabulous interview, Tim. Many thanks. It was well expressed.

    Thanks for the link!

  4. “Scott S.: Courage is a virtue; “courageism” is a movement. We need a movement now. A new generation is growing up into terrorism in some parts of the Middle East. Young people in the West can grow up demanding a safety that is no longer certain, or nobly face their fears.”

    Ok, so if I am understanding this right, ya’ll are trying to artificially create a movement? A movement that needs it’s own new word? I do believe the ideals of this already exist in our society.

    ““Courageism” is not just “courage, however, any more than “terrorism” is just “terror.” True “courageism” involves some real risk of death or maiming, just as “terrorism” requires more than damage to property or reputation.”

    So essentially, couragism is just the new Heroism? Why?

    “Scott S.: Routinely ask yourself, “What do I fear?” You don’t get a chance to face down death on a regular basis, but you deal with fear every day. What are you afraid of losing? What are you afraid you’ll never find? What do you cling to? The approval of others? Pleasure? Independence? Pride?

    If there is anything you crave that leads you to do what you know is wrong, you are not ready to face death yet.”

    Hehe. Sounds like Batman Begins. “What do you Fear…” :D Sorry.

    1. I’m still not clear on what couragism wants me to do. It appears that it wants me to be prepared to die.
    2. Everyone has fears and weaknesses, because all men are subject to temptation. And I can garuntee you, every man that has died in the history of the world has had a fear or weakness. It’s human nature. So what exactly is this deal about being ready to face death?

    “The passengers on Flight 93 had nothing to lose when they rose up against the hijackers, but the average American has so much to cling to. That is why the terrorists are so effective: they threaten our secular safety.”

    The average american was onboard that plane. When they had the information laid out infront of them, they prevented a bunch of other deaths. Now days, how succesful do you think a Hijacker would be? How about something like Timothy McVahe, with the Oklahoma city bombing? I think Americans are much more aware and willing to defend themselves then you give them credit for.

    Thanks for the interview Tim!

  5. D. Cole Phillips February 27, 2006 at 4:26 PM

    I’ve often wondered what I would do if I were ever in a situation where I literally had a split second to make a life or death decision. Of course, I like to think I’d be the guy that would to run up and tackle the maniac with the automatic machine gun, in order to save a huge crowd of hostages. But I wonder what I really would do…..
    I like the face that Scott pointed out how Aristotle mentioned that the truly courageous man is not so because he does not feel fear, but rather because he does feel fear, but faces it anyway.

  6. neat. this clears up a lot, tim. palmboy has some good questions, though, and i’m interested in hearing (reading?) what your answer is.
    good stuff, good stuff.

  7. Yes, he does have some good questions. Unfortunately, I just did the interview, so I would really suggest emailing Scott Somerville, asking him, and then posting it on your blog. If you do, I’d love to link to it!

    I’m still thinking about Palm Boy’s questions…

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