A wiry adolescent boy stood trembling on a wrestling mat in central Utah, ready to prove his worth in a physical feat of strength. He found himself attempting to put his best foot forward in a world that was completely alien to him. Across from him, a stocky man-child stood poised, confident and collected. It was obvious that this person had wrestled since he first left his mother’s bull chute of a belly. The referee channeled his most exuberant announcer’s voice to prompt the two to shake hands and go to war.
Oftentimes in life, we are faced with insurmountable challenges. As tempting as it may be to believe that we have complete control over any given experience in life, this is not always the case. At times we are simply faced with circumstances that are beyond our control and have a high probability of ending poorly. In these moments we must choose to exercise courage in the face of certain failure.
I am talking about having the foresight to see the negative outcome of a particular path and deciding to take the path anyway because it aligns with your moral code. I am talking about seeing an iceberg on the ocean before you, knowing that you’re probably going to sink, but choosing to stay on the boat because your integrity demands it.
Examples that illustrate this type of courage include hopeful mothers making the difficult choice of trying for another child after losing several already to miscarriage; the cancer patient who chooses to stop pursuing chemotherapy because it is robbing them of a dignified last few months of life; the soldier who knows that he is vastly outnumbered but loads his firearm anyway and proceeds toward the enemy; a hospice nurse treating a late-stage Alzheimer’s patient as they slowly inch closer and closer to death. And even the telemarketer who knows full well after calling my phone four times that I will undoubtedly hang up on him a fifth time.
There is a certain level of courage demonstrated by the person who is wise enough to accept the high probability of defeat but trudges forward anyway. These are the individuals with the most character, depth and aptitude for personal growth.
I have the opportunity of witnessing resilient men and women carry mental illness with strength and fortitude. I am awed by the bravery of individuals carrying a diagnosis of depression that choose to defy the bombardment of destructive thoughts and continue living with intense emotional pain. I am always wonder-struck by the person who experiences panic attacks regularly in social situations but has dinner with her girlfriend’s family nevertheless. I am humbled by the individual experiencing psychosis that leaves the house despite the ridicule a frightened and ill-informed society will subject him to.
We can all tap into this type of untethered courage by accepting the fact that some circumstances, problems and trials don’t have a joyous ending. We can then ask ourselves if the pain of defeat outweighs the morals we’d be sacrificing in avoiding an unwanted ending.
Depending on the problem at hand, avoidance may not be a realistic choice. It will likely bring about more peace to accept a problem and subsequent defeat than to deny its existence. Denying the probability of an outcome will not bring about a solution, it will prolong the suffering of a person already going through hell.
The referee’s command was given. The gangly sophomore lunged forward in an attempt to tackle his opponent. The larger, stronger boy dodged the other’s most valiant effort and slammed him down, turning his shoulders until they rested on the mat. Defeated this time, the boy left the mat to prepare for his next match.
Kelland Brewer holds a master’s degree in social work from Utah State University. He resides in Moab with his wife. He currently serves the residents of Grand County as a psychotherapist with Four Corners Community Behavioral Health, but the views expressed here are his alone.