Last week I wrote a blog about Courage, broadly and in terms of organisations. In response to that blog there were two comments. The first made the point that in courage required fear (this made by a Consultant friend of mine) and the second (from Gareth Jones) refuted that. That evening, I was having a conversation with someone who shall remain nameless, and this person asked an interesting question (which kind of backed up the point that courage needed fear) and the question was “if you aren’t courageous in response to fear does that make you a coward?”. The conversation went on to discuss conscientious objectors and those who refused to “go over the top” in the trenches of the Somme.
The definition of coward varies depending on the dictionary but this seems fairly representative:
- a person who is contemptibly lacking in the courage to do or endure dangerous or unpleasant things.
- 1 literary excessively afraid of danger or pain.
- 2 Heraldry(of an animal) depicted with the tail between the hind legs.
The curiosity seed about cowardice having been planted in my mind I did what I always (now) do in response to an absence of knowledge I googled it and the cowards who seem to be commonly quoted (aside from Noel, a cheap joke!) are these:
Two have something in common, Jack McCall and Robert Ford who shot, respectively, Wild Bill Hickok and Jesse James in the back whilst wrapped up in other outlaw type activities. The fact that they killed outlaws wasn’t what was objected to, it was the fact they shot them in the back that distinguished them.
J. Bruce Ismay, who as Chairman of White Star Lines was considered a coward as he made it off the R.M.S. Titanic whilst women and children were still on board.
The remainder of the names that come up seem to involve either people making seemingly poor decisions (Neville Chamberlain) or people who are making what appear political decisions or following poor intelligence (George W. Bush comes up a LOT!). So are a poor decision makers cowards? Did they not feel fear or did they choose to not be courageous?
Although Eddie Izzard would seem a strange source to cite here, he makes an interesting point in his show “Dressed to Kill”. In the process of making a point about religion he says that Scooby Doo and Shaggy are two of the most major characters in American literature (he also makes the point that Scrappy Doo should have been shot). He remarks that aside from Falstaff (who appears in several of Shakespeare’s Henrys) they are the only cowards that we like. He goes on to say that they only believe in “cowardice and sandwiches”. So is the reason the lists for heroes are copious and the lists for cowards are tiny to do with the fact that we don’t like cowards?
Watch from 10’ 45” to hear it straight from the horses mouth… (and be warned he MAY use some swear words)
But with the information from both google and from Eddie Izzard, I am still no clearer on the difference between cowardice and poor decision making.
In “The Return of the Jedi” Alec Guiness (as Obi-Wan Kenobi) says “you’re going to find that many of the truths we cling to depend greatly on our own point of view” to Luke in justifying his sin of ommision around the whole ‘Darth Vader’s your Dad’ thing. So are poor decision makers only cowards from a certain point of view?
I am no clearer on this. In fact I am moderately more confused. At least having watched a bit of Eddie Izzard I have laughed.
So no neat ending. No packaging. Just a sharing of thoughts since last week with the hope that some opinion will make things clearer.
The floor is yours…..