Courage: Use It While You Have It

“What do you fear, lady?” [Aragorn] asked.
“A cage,” [Éowyn] said. “To stay behind bars, until use and old age accept them, and all chance of doing great deeds is gone beyond recall or desire.”

The Return of the King, J.R.R. Tolkien

“Gone beyond recall or desire.” What Tolkien’s female Lord of the Rings heroine Eowyn fears most is not death or even the dark lord Sauron – it’s the loss of her desire for adventure.

Tolkien gets at a real, healthy fear here: courage does have an expiration date.

Youth gives us some natural boldness and courage. Testosterone helps. Anger or indignation might give us another temporary boost. Desperation drives us to boldness, as does loyalty and protection of those we love. But all of these motivators to courageous action are finite, though. And ignored often enough, they will start to burn less and less brightly.

I think it’s safe to bet that we all spend a good deal of my time analyzing and wondering about what will happen if we make bold moves (rather than actually making bold moves). Only a couple of times a year – or a decade – do we have the fire in our bellies to actually make the bold moves and damn the consequences.

This is a new decade, and it’s a perfect time to start making the most of the courage we do have, when we have it. Let’s not sit on our boldness. And who knows? We might even get some more out of the deal.

Originally published at JamesWalpole.com.

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You Are Responsible for Your Own Disillusionment

We aren’t so much disillusioned by the failures of others as by our own failures.

We aren’t just disillusioned with our ideals because of the corrupt systems at our companies or in our countries. Plenty of people keep their idealism while fighting corrupt systems. We are disillusioned because we go along with the systems.

We aren’t just disillusioned with courage and adventure because the lifestyles around us are comfortable and craven. We are disillusioned because we recognize the mediocrity of our lifestyles but do nothing to change them.

And we aren’t just disillusioned with faithfulness in friendships and relationships because our friends are unreliable. We are disillusioned because we know we aren’t willing to give the work, time, and resources of true comrades.

If you want to believe that people are better, become a better person.

If you want to believe that the world is good, do something to make it so.

If you wait on the world to confirm or deny your highest hopes for the world, you’ll be shocked by how disillusioned you become – but it won’t be the world’s fault.

Originally published at JamesWalpole.com.

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Adventure May Never Find You

There’s an old part of many adventure stories in fantasy and history: the arrival of the guide and the call to adventure.

It’s young dweeby Steve Rogers being picked to be Captain America. It’s Gandalf rapping on Bilbo Baggins’ door. It’s Aslan transporting the Pevensie children into Narnia.

Adventure seems to find people in these stories and more or less push them into an adventure.

That happened for a lot of young men of my grandfather’s generation. They had a depression and a world war that brought danger and risk and adventure to them. Many of them responded admirably.

But many of us now live in the richest societies that have ever existed. We have shopping malls and iPhones and advanced medical care and food delivery apps competing for our business.

We have bubbles into which we can go and never come out.

Maybe like me you happen to have been born or happen to have ended up in one of these bubbles (and I’d argue that most of the United States is a bubble). While there are multiple calls to adventure even for us, it’s possible to never hear those calls, or at least to not recognize them. Adventure may never find us where we are. If it does, we might find ourselves waiting for a long time.

The psychologist Nathaniel Branden was fond of saying “No one is coming to save you.” I would paraphrase to say that (probably) no one is coming to call you on an adventure, at least not when you’re inside a bubble of security and comfort. So there’s no point in sitting around and waiting. Adventure is outside the bubble. It won’t find you in there, but you may find it out there.

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Find Out How To Put Your Money Where Your Mouth Is

It’s a dangerous thing to have too many convictions and too few actions to support those convictions.

It’s dangerous for all the obvious reasons: you tend to become a hypocrite, you tend not to actually help, etc. But it’s also dangerous for your ability to form new convictions. I’ve noticed it in myself: a growing feeling of being jaded at the problems I hear about in the news.

I could certainly be “aware” or “raise awareness” about the new issues of the day in community relations, environment, education, government, etc. But what would I really be adding? There are millions of people who make “awareness” their job.

And so I’ve tended in the past few years to focus my efforts on a few localized initiatives (church and community) and a handful of bigger ones (clean water, monetary freedom, education alternatives) while ignoring most of the “hot issues.”

But then there are things like the protests in Hong Kong.

From when I first heard about the large-scale resistance happening there in reaction against overreaching Chinese surveillance, it had been on the edge of my mind. I was opposed to the Chinese state, I was supportive of the cause of a free Hong Kong, but I was afraid to form much of an opinion partly for fear of becoming another “awareness raiser.” How could I really help that situation? The feeling of helplessness made me feel less like learning about the plight of the city, and I admit I buried my head in the sand about it.

Then I realized it was actually fairly easy to start putting my money where my heart was. There have been multiple GoFundMe’s started to fund supplies for the protestors (many of whom are just teenagers). Someone on Reddit put together a whole list of ways to support the city and its protestors.

I’ve started with just a small donation to the Hong Kong Free Press. I mean to do more. It will be small, but it will be something. And because I know how to help now, I expect I’ll be following these developments with a clearer eye now.

Aligning action with convictions has that clarifying effect. And the actions don’t have to be great.

Originally published at JamesWalpole.com.

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Instead of Acting Rich, Take Advantage of Your Time Billionaire Status

There are few things we young people like more than competing for status. Unfortunately, we’re often tempted in the direction of acquiring status by buying stuff we can’t afford so we can fool people into thinking we have wealth we don’t have.

Look – it’s not cool to flout riches under any circumstances. But if we absolutely *must*, why not flout our richness in time? Let’s act like the time billionaires we are.

Real monetary wealth (as opposed to rented Ferraris) comes with wisdom and age for most. But ask any 40 or 50-something what they wish they had, and they would covet what we young people have to spare: time.

Sure – we can’t afford Ferraris in our 20s. But we have ample time to restart a career in the automotive industry. We have the time to actually go to work for Ferrari, or any car company of our choosing (Tesla) and retrain, climb ladders, and build careers working around cars we love. The 60 year-old executive who can finally buy one of their vehicles can’t do that so easily.

We can’t afford houses, but we can learn how to build them. We can’t afford home cinemas, but we can dabble in acting. We can’t afford elite universities, but we can afford to spend weeks reading whatever books we want.

Why do we not find this luxurious in itself? We still have relatively limitless potential, (most) of the time in the world to realize it, and even some time for mistakes. Instead of cashing in on our futures by indulging in extravagant physical things, wouldn’t it be much more satisfying to indulge in extravagant uses of our time? *That’s* high-status in its own way.

Originally published at JamesWalpole.com.

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The Gods Whose Sacrifices We Neglect

The old gods have a lot to teach us.

Sure, we all know that the Greek pantheon – Zeus, Hera, Aphrodite, Hades, Ares, Athena, Artemis, Demeter, Dionysus, and the rest – don’t *really* exist.

But there is a reason people chose these characters to personify their understanding of the world. As psychologist Jordan Peterson points out, each god (in all of his or her power and pettiness) represents some of the fundamental human drives or attributes – sex, intelligence, wrath, independence.

The old Greek pantheon is a sophisticated way for understanding the complex human mind, which is home to many powerful needs and drives that sometimes act like personalities.

Like the gods of legend, these “gods” of our personality don’t like people who spurn them. And it doesn’t take a long look into Greek mythology to know that the gods do awful things to people they don’t like. Afflictions of madness, afflictions of lust, transformation into animals – it’s not pretty.

Aren’t fighting for your rights, your ideas, or your self-respect? You are neglecting Ares (the god of war) and he will exact his sacrifice someway. Usually this will look like a gradual building resentment, with an explosion of anger toward someone who doesn’t deserve it at a time it’s not called for.

Aren’t honoring or expressing your own sexuality? You may be offending Aphrodite (who brought about the downfall of Heracles – so not someone to be messed with). She’ll have her due, in uncontrolled, warped, or frustrated desire.

Aren’t preserving your independence and purity? Giving in to the crowd? Surrendering what makes you unique? In a sense you are offending the virgin goddess Artemis, who is perhaps the scariest of them all (she’ll turn you into a stag and have your own hounds kill you).

It’s all imagination, I know. But I still find it interesting to think of my own drives or needs as personalities. With personalities, at least we can bargain. We can make the sacrifices that all good Greeks knew to make. And we can remember that neglecting any of the gods has terrible consequences.

Originally published at JamesWalpole.com.

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