Be risky but righteous: What courage means to me

This blog post is taken from an ethics speech given by Bill ’20 to Upper School students and faculty. Bill spoke about this month’s ethics lesson on the subject of courage. One of the most courageous acts Bill took, he says, was to travel thousands of miles away from his home country China alone and attend high school in the U.S. at the age of 14.

When I first came to Landon as a freshman, looking at those gigantic seniors giving ethics speeches, I couldn’t imagine, wow, one day I could be the person here and have everyone’s eyes on me. I didn’t believe I would have the knowledge or maturity to give a speech on such a serious topic. But most importantly, I didn’t think I would have the courage.

All the speakers here looked so confident and comfortable expressing themselves in front of hundreds of people. But thankfully, after growing for four years in Landon’s environment, as you can see now, I become courageous enough to overcome my fear and speak here.

So, what does courage really mean? I think for an act to be courageous, it has to fulfill two criteria. First, there must be some sense of uncertainty involved in the result of the action. If I know I will definitely succeed doing something, that doesn’t make me courageous, because I’m not assuming any risk. On the other hand, if I know I will fail, but still does it anyway, it makes me reckless and foolish.

But some people might ask, Bill, so when I’m, say, cheating on a test, I’m taking the risk of being caught, does that make me courageous? The answer obviously is no, and here comes the second criterion: that the intention of the act has to be righteous and just.

A courageous person always takes the harder path instead of the shortcut, because taking the shortcut means that one is not brave enough to directly face the obstacles on the harder path. In this case, the person is afraid to tackle the materials on the test by himself, and chooses to seek illegitimate assistance, which is cowardly, completely the opposite of courageous.

One of the most courageous acts I’ve done in my life so far is to travel thousands of miles away from my home country China alone and attend high school in the U.S. As a 14-year-old boy, it was a very tough decision.

I was aware of the risks that I had to face. I knew I would definitely be homesick a lot since I can only be with my family for less than three months a year during breaks. Language was another problem: Would I be able to understand my teachers? Or what if I couldn’t communicate with my classmates, and make any friends? Other things such as could I get used to the food, or would my host family be kind to me, were also concerns. However, the great opportunity that Landon offered truly excited me.

At Landon, I have the freedom to develop my interests in sports and music, whereas in China there was too much emphasis on academics. Moreover, without my parents taking care of me, I would become more independent and acquire countless skills that are valuable in life. So, with many worries, I started my journey to the U.S. Thank to my host family, my friends, and my teachers, I have learned so much more than I had expected, and I’m proud to say that this has turned out to be the best decision I’ve ever made.

But how could someone be more courageous? You may ask. There are various psychological approaches to this question. Unfortunately, I am not very familiar with this field. The strategy that I want to share is much more straightforward-is simply to be as prepared as you can before taking the risk.

Take my story as an example. In the year before I came to the U.S., I listened to English news every single day, read dozens of English books, and thoroughly studied the American culture. These preparations reduced the risks I mentioned above and made me believe that I could overcome whatever difficulty I encountered. Just like the musicians must rehearse hundreds of times before they have the courage to perform in front of the audience, and the most confident soccer player on the team who dares to take the penalty kick must had practiced his shots for years.

There is a recent time when I felt I did all the preparations I could, but still hesitated while making a decision. At that moment, somehow, I thought about a draft propaganda for the Chinese military, saying, “If you serve, you will regret it for three years; if you don’t serve, you will regret forever.” Of course, the propaganda is rather radical, but the message is that the harsh conditions in the military makes soldiers regretful for missing their easy lives during three years of service, while people who aren’t brave enough to serve will miss the opportunity to learn so many valuable lessons and have so many unforgettable memories in the military, and thus regret it for life.

In my college application process, I faced a very similar situation. When I was five, my father worked at a college for a year, and we lived near its campus. Since then, it had become my only dream school, but I understood my chances of getting in were extremely low. Anyway, I still determined to apply there in the early round. For the past month or so, I occasionally felt regretful for my decision, regretting for taking the hard path. I thought if I had applied early to an easier school, I would probably have already got in and wouldn’t have to worry about all those other applications.

This regret didn’t last long. It stopped immediately after the hard time writing my essays ended, just like it stops as the soldiers leaving the military. However, I knew if I applied somewhere else, I would be regretful for my whole life. Even after 10 years, 20 years, 30 years, it would still be like a nightmare always hovering in my mind and asking me, really? Bill, you didn’t dare to chase your dream? Not even give it a shot?

Fortunately, I was able to make up my mind applying to my dream school. The result, I think, is insignificant compares to the fact that I had the courage to apply. So, if you face a situation very much like mine, I hope you can make the courageous decision, take the harder path, and not make yourself regret for longer time. Thank you!