Where will you train your courage?

Where will you train your courage? September 15, 2012

My post on the horrors of football sparked an interesting conversation about courage and character.  Forgive me for stitching together conversations and truncating comments, pop over and read the comments in full in the thread.

Randy: Men do take risks. Women don’t get why. Liberal do-gooders try to prevent them from taking risks. There is something about facing your fear and coming out victorious that men need to do. I won’t try and explain it but if I am ever in a dangerous situation I want a guy who gets that to be in charge. Don’t give me the guy who ran from every fight. Give me the guy who made the other guy scared of him. That is who I want to follow when we are in real trouble.

Elliot: Courage doesn’t consist in destroying one’s health and cognitive ability for sport.

Randy: OK, how do you build courage in a risk-free environment?

Jake: It’s really hard to find things that are scary, challenging, courage-building, and safe. There’s a very real sense in which football is risk-for-risk’s-sake, but that’s not the same thing as saying “Sport is activity done for no purpose”. The point of football (at least for me) was that I had a very real fear of pain, of hitting other players, of failing and embarassing myself in front of my peers, and overcoming that fear was a self-contained good thing (this is distinct from being afraid of lasting brain damage. That’s not a fear I want to overcome)

Elliot: Well, courage is about enduring difficulties and pains for the sake of some desired good. Risk doesn’t necessarily enter into it. There are risk-free activities (e.g., extensive study) that still require fortitude of the person doing them (reading for hours at a time is incredibly difficult, for me anyway). Or to take a better example of courage, dying for someone else requires tremendous courage. Is there risk? Well, not exactly, since you know you’re going to die. The courage is in your ability to sustain the desire to do this based on the goodness of the act, despite the pain and loss associated with it. Courage endures. But(!) it endures for a purpose…

I love Elliot’s whole comment (which I trimmed above).  I know that Randy and Jake are responding to a real concern about whether we’re building a world with soft corners on it, and I agree that something needs to be done.  But I don’t think that’s seeking out riskier activities.  The best thing is to meditate on Elliot’s comment and to realize everything in the world is high-stakes and more than a little risky.

Getting hit by a linebacker is scary and I’m sure as heck not signing up for that experience.  But this isn’t the most salient kind of scary to train on.  Humans are bad at estimating risks; we worry about shark attacks and fail to buckle our seatbelts.  And we persistently underrate the risks of helping others and allowing ourselves to be dependent on their help in turn.  The power we have over other people is staggering (think of the story of the gossip and the chicken feathers).

The solution isn’t to cultivate fear of those situations, so we have more opportunities to exert courage.   The problem is thinking about courage as an exertion, instead of a tool to help us carry out our duty.  I’m particularly prone to ignore Elliot’s advice and think of courage as an end-in-itself.  Whether I’m steeling myself to get on a roller coaster or have a difficult talk with a friend, part of me is rejoicing in getting to exert strength.  And then I don’t end up focused on the good I need my courage to defend or even on a pure aesthetic appreciation of strength in a stoic kind of way.  I end up with pride.  I start running the little XP counter in my head and try to think if I’ve beaten a challenge big enough to level up.

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  • Niemand

    how do you build courage in a risk-free environment?

    Maybe some day we’ll have a risk-free environment and be able to answer that question. In the mean time, I’d rather follow a man or woman who is able to calculate risk reasonably and take the path that has the best chance of a good outcome for him or herself and everyone else involved, not the egotistical adrenaline junky who wants to “face his fears” and can’t imagine any outcome but being “victorious.” That’s not courage, it’s just stupidity.

    • This would make sense if we were talking about computers and not people. People don’t just calculate risks coldly. They get flustered. They are effected by a ton of emotions. Some should effect them but not too much. Some they should ignore. The classic example is the deer in the headlights. He can run. His thinking or instinct is to run. But he is just not used to headlights. He gets overwhelmed and freezes. Dead deer. People do that to. They panic and their thinking is shuts down. It is hugely less likely to happen if they have been if they have been in similar situations before.

      • Niemand

        It is hugely less likely to happen if they have been if they have been in similar situations before.

        A reasonable point. But the risks men take in sports are completely artificial and so removed from any risk they might face in the “real world” that I don’t see how sports are any practice for facing real world fears and avoiding the “deer in the headlights” risk.

        Facing your fear of being wrong by reading something by Dawkins or Chomsky* and getting used to figuring out how to argue your position logically might be more useful. Plus, if you do it right, there’s a real “risk” that you’ll have to change your world view. And this is a scarier risk to the average person (of any political or religious ideology) than the remote chance of injury playing sports.

        *If you agree with Dawkins and Chomsky, please insert Ayn Rand or Augustine or Obama or Romney in the above sentence instead.

        • leahlibresco

          I agree with Niemand. The particular kind of courage trained by sport does not necessarily map well onto the kinds of fear that we’ll encounter in day to day life. Boxing courage is not helpful in an argument.

          • Back in their heyday the English thought that the physical courage you learned on the sports field helped a lot when trying not to funk it when being fired at by Pathans, etc. Whether they were right or not I can’t say for sure, but I think its plausible.

            Now, it turns out that even then, let alone in these pacific times, one doesn’t face Pathan fire every day. But why should ‘preparation for every day’ be our standard? “Lord Jim” is about a man who is ruined because he falls to pieces in a highly exceptional, once in a lifetime moment. It seems to me that a sound moral calculus might care as much or more about voting to roll when you are on United 93, or covering your girlfriend in an Aurora theater, or trying to bull rush an armed mass murder, as it does having a robust and coherent philosophical map. I’ll take George Washington over Thomas Jefferson every day of the week and twice on Sundays.

        • It is not either/or. I think not getting pushed around physically leads to not getting push around intellectually. You learn that just because somebody scares you does not mean you can’t win. It just means you are human. So I would hope someone would learn how to spot logical fallacies and be able to protect himself and others from intellectual bullies. It is the same mentality in a different forum.

          I would even go so far as to say one person facing an intimidating challenge on a sports field can lead to another person rising to a challenge in business or academia. Suddenly responding to strength with strength does not seem far-fetched.

  • There *is* something good about racking up those endurance points. It can help you know yourself and broaden your sense of possibility in life. But one of the classical defining characteristics of virtue (according to St. Augustine) is that it cannot be used badly. This means that the exercise of courage cannot tend to the destruction of your person or character. So if you’re being daring in a way that serves no good end and just tends to erode your well-being, it’s safe to say that this is not an act of courage.

    Now, the fact is that life is dangerous and frequently painful, and thus that a little training in pain within an environment where the outcome doesn’t actually matter can do us a lot of good. Childhood sports can serve this function admirably. Courage in unimportant things (e.g. getting up on time, following a routine, etc.) disposes you toward courage in things that actually matter. I remember in college realizing that if I wanted to grow as a person I needed to start with the minutiae of everyday life (using mouthwash, e.g.) and build from there. If you don’t have the resoluteness to stick with something unimportant, you’ll never hold firm when some larger struggle overtakes you.

    There’s another fact that’s been left out, one that I’m inclined to forget. Suffering and struggling with others toward a common goal builds friendship, and (to the extent that the goal is good and there’s genuine care involved) even virtuous friendship. (For those who haven’t been reading their Aristotle lately, Virtuous friendship — in which the friends desire to help each other grow in excellence and achieve the best goals in life — is the highest kind, above friendships of utility and enjoyment.) I never played football or any real team sport, but I can see the social value of it, and I can see that eliminating such things would be very harmful, especially to young men, who tend on the whole toward emotional isolation and general solitude.

    That said, I think my comments quoted above really serve as a basic principle in these matters. Courage is endurance in pursuing a worthy end.

    • I’m a curious if you (and Leah) are objecting to the content or the consequences of playing football? Suppose there wasn’t a risk of long term brain injury (but still the knee, hip, back, etc. injury risk inherent in pretty much every sport). In that hypothetical world, do you think playing football is a good thing?

      If your answer is yes, then we’re really just quibbling over price- are the benefits enough to outweigh the costs? If the answer is no, do you reject all organized sports/physical activity, or is there something specific to the game of football (like its apparent focus on physical pain) that you find damaging beyond the possible long-term mental health issues? Particularly in light of other games like rugby, Australian rules football, kickboxing, wrestling, etc, which seem similar in spirit to American football

      • Stephen P.

        Perhaps a specification of Jake’s question:
        Suppose that I’ve already developed some strong pain tolerance and the ability to work with other people toward a common goal. Is there anything about sports which makes them worth doing in their own right? Or would continuing to play them after we’ve learned these lessons constitute a sort of childish amusement that we should be wary of indulging past its time?

      • So, someone down below suggested that all of this silliness might be chalked up to Leah’s “gnostic tendencies”. I have similar tendencies, though they might be better called “puritan” than “gnostic”. Still, I don’t think either of these is really behind the discussion at hand.

        The great thing about virtue is that it’s flexible. Sport is good. Activity done for the sake of diversion falls under the virtue of eutrapelia (cf. Summa Theologiae 2a 2ae q.168), and is analogous to physical rest and relaxation. The mind (like the body) just can’t be working all the time, so there is an excellence in finding suitable modes of relaxation and doing well with them. These consist of play, humor, wittiness, games, etc. In the absence of these, we become like all those characters in The Scarlet Letter, and life takes a turn for the worse. Even the famously ascetical Desert Fathers of early Christianity recognized the importance of play. (If you bend the bow too far, it will break.) So I’m not saying, and I’m sure Leah’s not saying, that football is to be universally prohibited, or that any leisure activity involving any significant degree of physical risk is immoral.

        You may have noticed that I’ve been saying “sport” consistently, and not “sports”. This has semantic significance. Sport is activity done for the sake of diversion. Sports are specific games involving the competitive use of a physical skill, normally in a highly organized setting, often at high stakes. What I would like to suggest is that Sport, as I have described it here, has become mostly distinct from Sports as practiced in our culture. I suspect that this is what people are gesturing toward when they complain about the professionalization of child sports teams (the stock little league dad screaming at his son, the kids wearing their all-too-real uniforms and receiving all-too-earnest chiding and corrective advice from their coaches) or the absence of spontaneity in the typical middle-American boy’s experience of these games. I have already touched on the ways even things like this can be good for kids and help develop certain virtues. But what’s clear is that turning a frivolous game into a matter of significant import in your life (as a child or an adult) removes it to a very large extent (perhaps entirely) from the recreation that falls under eutrapelia. When a basketball game is the sort of thing you can cry about after losing, we can be sure that it wasn’t just a diversion. When playing (and thus the possibility of poor performance or loss) induces tension and worry in the player commensurate with a serious life-event, we’re not dealing with sport anymore.

        So let me try to summarize. Activities done for the sake of diversion, to develop a skill that is wholly particular to the game in which it is used (chess, e.g.) are moderated by the virtue of eutrapelia: they are good for the recovery of the soul, for the kind of careless frivolity that enables one to more adequately turn toward serious things at other times. A casual game of football could easily fall under this category, and here we would want to regulate our way of playing and the extent to which we invest ourselves in playing in a way commensurate with the freedom and frivolity of play. On the other hand we have professional and quasi-professional way of doing sports, as practiced in schools and national leagues, in which games become a matter of serious serious consequence (moral or material) for players, and are no longer done merely for diversion, but as a kind of art. Here the virtues I have talked about in earlier comments come into play: virtues like fortitude and temperance, friendship and sacrifice, which aid in the cultivation of art, especially when others are involved. I remember attending hockey games when I was at Yale, and marveling at the excellence of the players’ coordination. There is a kind of glory in it, a luminosity or beauty similar to a dance, but perhaps improved by the fact that it is directed toward a definite end. But the question with the cultivation of any art, is what the value of one’s produce is, and to what extent the practice of that art is worthy of sacrifice and pain. This is a deep question which depends on a solid analysis of what is being done and what is produced. But now perhaps we can see why this question is comparable to questions about job-safety, and also why we ordinarily have so much trouble appreciating that. Sport is supposed to be something free from the ordinary interests and pursuits of everyday life. Any material or moral advantages gained from winning a football game are merely accidental and depend on the context. But once it has been professionalized, assuming it is not secretly part of a vestal cult or religious order, a game decisively enters the world of production and its value is open to question. In other words, since skill at football cannot sanely be pursued as a good in itself, the non-recreational player needs to determine its place within the broader hierarchy of ends, and determine whether the costs of playing (given the benefits of playing) are commensurate with the reasonable pursuit and acquisition of happiness. This is, in other words, the same question (almost exactly the same question) someone working in a cotton mill or a coal mine needs to ask, and something that those who have care of millers and miners need to ask to protect their well-being. I am personally not ready to answer it, but I think it’s worth sorting out all the issues so that we aren’t confused about the matter when we get down to it.

        • Stephen P.

          “I remember attending hockey games when I was at Yale, and marveling at the excellence of the players’ coordination. There is a kind of glory in it, a luminosity or beauty similar to a dance, but perhaps improved by the fact that it is directed toward a definite end.”

          I couldn’t agree more with this type of insight. It’s the type of insight I had years ago when I first started playing soccer: there’s a grace to the game all its own. I think the only place we truly differ here would be to understand sport solely in terms of the virtue of eutrapelia. Sport definitely is a form of eutrapelia insofar as it can be (and frequently is) a way to “blow off steam” or reset oneself mentally, etc. But, particularly in light of our common insight, I would argue it ought be understood in terms much broader than eutrapelia. It seems to me that playing sports is, in many ways, analogous to refining one’s craft of pottery making or producing beautiful music. Neither of these things are necessary for human life in the strict sense of the word, but they’re certainly worth spending a lifetime pursuing and perfecting despite that obvious fact. In the same way, I’m inclined to believe that “sport” is very much the type of thing that could legitimately be considered one’s own “work”.

          You are right to point out that all pursuits need to be assessed soberly in light of an all-things-considered judgment: “But the question with the cultivation of any art, is what the value of one’s produce is, and to what extent the practice of that art is worthy of sacrifice and pain.”
          But it’s not at all clear to me why this point should have unique force in its application to the athlete. Why is it that sport “is supposed to be something free from the ordinary interests and pursuits of everyday life” whereas artists and musicians are very much justified in making their respective craft their daily “work”? Isn’t playing soccer well worth making the same type of sacrifices that an opera singer or pianist makes? Such forms of life strike me as being completely compatible with – and directly contributing to- the pursuit of holiness.

          All of that is to say that I very much object to the idea that “…skill at football cannot sanely be pursued as a good in itself”. Now there’s a sense in which I might agree with that statement- the sense in which nothing is good “in itself” except for union with God. But I’m pretty sure that’s not what you meant.

          • Taosquirrel

            You seem to basically agree with Elliot, so I’ll just try and step in and reiterate a few points. Perhaps that will clarify things. Perhaps not. After all, it’s 3 AM and I’m sleepy.

            When you say “but, particularly in light of our common insight, I would argue it ought be understood in terms much broader than eutrapelia,” I’m fairly certain Elliot covered that when he said how, if pursued seriously, they can be considered as “a kind of art” (‘art’ being used in the broad technical sense of using reason to make things in the world match an idea in one’s mind). Art is an intellectual virtue concerned with products rather than with the producers of them, and so is ultimately subordinate to a higher virtue like prudence.
            For that reason, your line that “such forms of life strike me as being completely compatible with – and directly contributing to- the pursuit of holiness,” ought to be read next to Elliot’s point that “virtues like fortitude and temperance, friendship and sacrifice… aid in the cultivation of art, especially when others are involved.” When these activities contribute to the pursuit of holiness, it is only because the cultivation of art is helped by greater virtues than itself. For the artist as a human being and not simply as a manufacturer of a product, it is those virtues that matter most. If the opera singer or the football player forgets that and raises the good of their product above their own good, then they are in error and danger.

          • Steve I think you must not have read that (admittedly overlong) final paragraph very well, because the whole point is that sports *can* be treated as a craft done for daily work, etc., but that once we begin to do that we have to give up the idea of sports as diversions separate from the rest of life. I don’t see how you could object to the following:

            “The non-recreational player needs to determine its place within the broader hierarchy of ends, and determine whether the costs of playing (given the benefits of playing) are commensurate with the reasonable pursuit and acquisition of happiness. This is, in other words, the same question (almost exactly the same question) someone working in a cotton mill or a coal mine needs to ask, and something that those who have care of millers and miners need to ask to protect their well-being.”

            It just seems to me that pursuing a sports career as an end in itself is just as bad as pursuing one’s artistic career, or one’s skill as a lawyer, or money or any other idol. Yes, we can talk about playing for its own sake in a limited (but very real) way, but when called to account our play will necessarily be reduced either to an instrumental good or a diversion governed by eutrapelia. Reading over your comment, I’m uncertain as to whether you actually read mine, since your objections are things I address explicitly…

          • Stephen P.

            Thanks, Tao. I think I read the idea that “Sport is supposed to be something free from the ordinary interests and pursuits of everyday life” to suggest that considering sport as a profession is something that we should be skeptical of prima facie. If there’s no particular suspicion attached to it, though, and we just understand it in the same terms we would judge any form of art, then I’m definitely happy to agree.

          • Stephen P.

            Comment nesting is indeed the worst, Elliot. See my response to Tao.

        • I take it you played football?

          • Because of comment nesting I’m not sure who this is addressed to, but if it’s to me, the answer is no. I most definitely did not play football. My athletic career consisted of one season of cross country running as a 15 year old.

        • Yeah, it was addressed to you. I know following the threads can be a sport unto itself. I was wondering because you speak of the goal or end or skills or other such things about football, if that is how you saw it if you played. I’m not sure, but it seems as though those who play football do so for different reasons than some that are being given. FWIW, I also ran Cross Country and played Baseball, though many of my best friends were on the Football team (and in Ohio, that made them royalty). Likewise, my two oldest boys run Cross Country, but my third son plays football, and again, for different reasons than some of what I’ve seen suggested.

          • So, I wrote a nice long response to this, and the internet devoured it. Instead of rewriting it I’ll just summarize. The great thing about virtue ethics is that it’s flexible and can account for the varying moral quality of a single act performed for the sake of different ends. There must be dozens of possible motivations for playing football, and the way someone plays and the extent of their investment in it will always be proportionate to their motivation. The moral shape of an act is determined primarily by the motivation behind it, and this is true especially with a game that has little intrinsic worth (scoring a touchdown could not easily be argued to be a substantive good, although there are people who do this). So the main case we were considering in the post that sparked this whole discussion is whether it’s moral to pursue excellence in a sport to the (intentional) exclusion of very basic human perfections (like, say, having a short term memory). The answer is pretty clearly “no”. Obviously, this is an extreme case. But the extreme case is illuminative for all the others. If we wanted to we could set up a hierarchy of cases, distinguished by the motivations for playing, and think about the moral qualities of each. But excessive casuistry is dangerous and I’m not inclined to retype all that anyway.

          • You needn’t retype it. That’s good enough. In the extreme I would probably agree; in the real it’s a different case altogether. That’s where I would land with it.

        • Ted Seeber

          Thank you for teaching me something new. Next time I’m using blogs to procrastinate, I’ll just call it the virtue of Eutrapelia

  • Irenist

    “I start running the little XP counter in my head and try to think if I’ve beaten a challenge big enough to level up.”
    This is such a big problem, and goes far beyond the contemporary perils of the over-gamification of everything. I too often succumb to the tendency Walker Percy discussed in “The Loss of the Creature” to be so busy thinking “now I’ve had this experience; check!,” or “this will make a great story” that I forget to attend to the present moment in what, IIRC, some Buddhists would call its “suchness.” So far, my best coping strategy is to try to let go and let experiences be gifts from God, instead of items on my agenda. It’s hard, though.

  • Doragoon

    Is the idea that we are being overly protective of the body and thus neglecting the spirit?

    If we are a body, which the spirit results from, then protecting the body at the expense of the spirit makes sense. The goal of life thus becomes to live as long as possible.
    If we are a spirit, and the body is just a vessel, then we start getting into the fun heresies of the body being bad and how we must liberate the spirit of it’s evil influence.
    If we are both, then the spirit must not be slave to the body, but neither can the spirit exist without the body.

    We are all going to get old and die. Before that happens, should we use our bodies (and possibly use them up) or should we try to maintain them in as youthful of a state as possible? To what end?

    Lastly, I want to ask how this relates to pregnancy and the physical harm women are willing to endure for their children. Some people think a woman like Saint Gianna Beretta Molla is foolish for dieing to protect an unborn child instead of aborting and hoping to try again later. It might be foolish for men to risk their health for athletic pursuits, but I see these issues as being on the same side of a slippery slope. Preserving the body, at the expense of the spirit.

    • Iota

      “I want to ask how this relates to pregnancy and the physical harm women are willing to endure for their children.”

      I might me misunderstanding this whole thing but I think part of the answer lies in the perceived reward for the action. If the harm (done either to the body OR the mind/spirit) outweighs the reward, your action will be seen as stupid. I’d stress there’s no necessary difference here in terms of whether you harm your body or your mind/spirit, so – for example, taking drugs to cram for exams or to have abnormal bodily and psychological experiences, with the long term risk of permanent neurological damage, is equally stupid in some people’s eyes (including mine).

      Of course your assessment of both the harm, and the reward is usually based on your values. So it might happen people will think you are stupid because you take an unjustified risk (i.e. reward risk/harm). That is part of the price people usually have to pay for actually having some sort of established values – that people will disagree with you. (So I’m not sure if the gendered turn it partly took – the whole “Men are warriors” thing – is the really best way to approach the problem)

      It wouldn’t surprise me one bit if someone said “Gianna Beretta Molla was foolish for dying to protect an unborn child” if that squared with the rest of their values and outlook. I’d strongly (elbeit not necessarily vocally) disagree with them, but that’s because I subscribe to Catholic ethics here.

      The same, if slightly less controversial, argument plays out when people discuss cloistered orders, for example.

      I assume both Elliot and Leah probably perceptive the reward gained by playing American football to be much lower than the potential harm to the player in the long term. Some of this, possibly, might have something to do with Leah having “gnostic tendencies”, but she’d have to comment on that herself I guess. 🙂

      Personally, I view most professional sport (as opposed to amateur sport) to be silly because people are pushing their bodies to the limit, the risks are high, and the reward you get is (the way I see it) that people remember you for ten years if you are at the top (some enthusiast will remember you a bit longer). If a sport, or a particular tactic or method, is especially risky and can result in higher than average amounts of permanent damage, bonus points on the stupidity scale. I have little respect for sports that end like this: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Elena_Mukhina#Injury (related to an old Quick Takes episode). And professional sports, it seems to me, have a higher chance of ending like this because politics, national rivalry, sometimes big money and, I think maybe often, the need to continue progressing with a “career” despite the risk, because you can’t do anything else professionally, are factor pressuring people into dangerous situations they’d be better off without.

      • Iota

        Using sighs for “greater” and “lesser than” wasn’t a good idea. Part of the above should read:

        people will think you are stupid because you take an unjustified risk (i.e. reward lesser than risk/harm), while you think it’s justified (reward greater than risk/harm)

  • Skittle

    Hey Leah! Slightly odd question. Do you watch Doctor Who? Because the most recent episode (episode 3 of 5 this mini-series/half-series, “A town called Mercy”) made me think very strongly of you and all your sin-eater stuff and so forth. I don’t really want to say more, in case you’re planning on watching it. I can tell you it has a cyborg gunslinger.

    So, if you’re procrastinating from writing replies to people, you could probably make a nice post on that 😉

    • leahlibresco

      No, I don’t watch the show, but I do read the TWOP recaps to keep up with my friends.

    • jenesaispas


    • Ted Seeber

      I thought it was funny how that episode took a dig at Christianity (with the homosexual/transgendered horse that the Preacher called Joshua but was really named Susan) and yet still sentenced the doctor (small d, no spoilers from me, you’ll have to watch the episode to find out) to essentially an alien version of purgatory in reward for matryrdom.

  • Jeff

    Courage is a VIRTUE. It’s not just a “tool”.

    • Agreed. It’s a form of self-mastery.

  • Have you seen Doubt? With Amy Adams, Meryl Streep, and Philip Seymour Hoffman? I thought the gossip and chicken feathers link might have gone there, but I see it doesn’t really. If you haven’t seen it, you really should: The characters are mainly nuns, priests, and students, and the movie is about certainty and doubt in the context of criminal guilt, but with strong undertones of those themes pertaining to faith. If you have, that’s great!

    • leahlibresco

      I saw the play years ago but not the film.

  • Scott Gay

    Jeff(9/15/12 11:06pm) is correct. All of the virtues are inherently paradoxes( see Chesterton’s “Orthodoxy” chapter VI.). On courage, I learned its paradoxical character while volunteered(drafted) by the US government into war. I’m not the best writer, but it basically boils down to loving your life and being willing to lose it. My Viet-nam roommate actually trained me( discipled, showed principles) in this area. The actual practice of the skills is not automatic depending on so many environmental realities(I think of the garden of gethsemane in this regard).
    I love Chesterton on humility and charity. I don’t know if he did, but will love to hear his take on kindness, patience, diligence, temperance, and purity. Especially purity, because Jonathan Haidt has it so highly placed. Purity isn’t all about chastity in sex, but more embracing honesty. Most people won’t read Chesterton, so I feel it’s necessary to add that his take on these as paradoxes, means Christians hold opposites together. So you get them having many wierd dichotomies- strong on marriage and celibacy. Pacifists and warriors. Teatotallers and imbibers. I’m half asleep this morning, so not very Christian at the moment, which I think is apropo to the topic. I think we should all say more on the virtues.

    • “I think we should all say more on the virtues.”

      Amen to that.

    • Ted Seeber

      You have a strange definition for the word chastity I have not previously been aware of. Can you expand upon that?

      Here’s my previous definition: the use of human sexuality rendered towards maintenance of the human species.

  • I appreciate all the good things said about sport. I do get the difference between playing a sport very seriously and just playing it. The reality of teenagers is that often just the more serious option is available. You play a sport 4 or more times a week or you don’t play it at all. That is sad. But that is the way they are. If you are good you play it seriously. If you are not you just quit.

    That is true of drama and music as well. It is not entirely related to whether a sport is rough or gentle. The question is should we try and remove the roughness from sport? We would have fewer injuries. For girls I would say Yes. Even for many boys. But there are some boys that really come alive when there are rough games. They connect with the coaches and teammates better there than anywhere else. It is like they are wired to hit and when somebody accepts that about them then everything they say about life rings true. Often it becomes a rite of passage into manhood. This book has something to say about this:

    They idea of art interests me. Art that is messy and violent.

    There is the question of how much injury risk is to much? Always a hard thing to address. You talk with people about safety and you often get principles asserted that would ban all cars. No cars would mean fewer injuries and fewer deaths. But we accept it because there are benefits. But how do you weigh those benefits against costs measured in human lives? We don’t know how to think about such matters.

    I talked with one guy at work who played serious hockey until he was 21. He says he is sure his brain looks terrible like some of the brains he has seen on the news. I work with him and his brains seem fine. He still plays at age 35. He loves the game.

    • Kristen inDallas

      For me the line is simple. You can assume te risk of injury but you don’t keep playing once you’re already (seriously) injured. You can put a band-aid on a scape sure, but once there’s a sprain or a lot of blood loss or a concussion it’s no longer ok to keep playing. Because the “you” you put back on the field is not capable of playing at the same level as the uninjured you. We assume the risks of driving (IF we’ve passed a driving test) but we don’t let 13 year olds drive and we don’t drive drunk, for the same reason. Sport = training your body to be a finely tuned machine that can take on the risks and demands required by the sport at the level of play you are engaging in. NOT = delusionally thinking that you’re so awesome that even with an injury, your body is still “a finely tuned machine.”

      • Actually, serious sport expects you to play through minor injuries. How injured do you have to be to stop? Hard to say. People have made game winning plays with broken bones. Those stories become legend. Playing through pain is considered a virtue not a vice. This is good for kids. Coaching 6 year olds in soccer they always expect the world to stop when they scrape their knee. Guess what? It doesn’t. You need to get up, pain or no pain, because the world take full advantage of the time you spend on the ground. That is not just true in sport.

        • leahlibresco

          This approach makes sense in fewer places than it’s applied. When I broke my toe in aikido class, it made sense for me to leave the practice. If you’re training to box, you need to spend some time training to pause when you get hit, but you still need to spend time working technique.

          When kids are playing sports, it makes sense for there to be a pause and an assessment. They’re not training to resist assault.

          (And blood-borne diseases mean that people have to come off the court to get a badly scraped knee bandaged for everyone else’s safety).

          • Actually if a kid got scraped bad enough to draw blood he was often on his mother’s lap for the duration. I am talking about very minor scrapes.

            I do think you are training to resist assault. A bump on the field is a form of assault and you want the kid to fight back and win rather than collapsing and feeling sorry for himself.

          • leahlibresco

            That doesn’t do much good unless you’re learning how to fight, not just how to not give up. This a much more reasonable tack to take in a Krav class than in a martial art that is more stylized and aesthetic instead of empirical. Basketball is not training for assault, so when my brother takes an elbow to the face and starts bleeding, it’s reasonable for him to go off to the side and get bandaged, even if that means he’s not learning the skill: fight with limited visibility due to dripping blood.

          • Doragoon

            I had a friend in college who was into Taekwondo. He broke his toes CONTINUOUSLY. Taekwondo is all kicks, so it happened a lot, but he would still kick with those broken toes. He wasn’t trying to be tough. Most people never knew he was injured. I only found out that he always had broken toes by chance.

            I think there’s a lesson that men learn, that physical pain and injury don’t matter. What needs to be done still needs to be done. If you’re saying that sports, being a form of recreation don’t really need to be done and can wait, then you’re simply making a judgement call about the value of the work verses the value of the injury. And like I said, men learn that injury doesn’t matter. By saying the sport should stop due to injury, you’re saying that the sport means less than something that doesn’t mean anything. You’re disparaging the value of the athlete’s work, and by extension, the athlete themselves.

          • Kristen inDallas

            Serious sports expect you to play through MINOR injuries, but they also have rules in place to keep you from playing through MAJOR ones. The key to being a virtuous athlete is respecting that the rules are in place for a reason and deffering your ability to judge your capactity to keep playing to a trainer or referee rather than your own damaged, adrenaline fueled brain. I played Taekwondo competitively in college. I finished one fight without remembering the last minute of it (and about 30-40 minutes that followed.) The scariest part for me was not the realization that I had blacked out and could have been really injured. The scary part was that I won the fight. Having only been up by a point or two at the begining of the round, and knowing she must have gotten in at least one solid kick (the one that blacked me out) I know that in it’s semi-concious adrenalized state, my body didn’t just defend itself, it attacked. I was impaired and I was attacking. I could have really hurt someone and who knows if I would have stopped… and that was all within the rules of the sport. If I had fallen down they would have required the ref to check my eyes, to protect against that very thing.If someone is deliberately and premeditatedly bending the rules to avoid “being caught” in this kind of impaired state (like these football players were doing) that would be extremely reckless and without virtue. Their putting themselves at risk, their opponents at risk and their teammates at risk, and that’s a pretty thick black line in my book.

          • *I think there’s a lesson that men learn, that physical pain and injury don’t matter*

            If I can take a half-assed stab at explaining why, its because there is a divide between being goal-oriented and being person-oriented that roughly maps to the divide between men and women. For those who are into that sort of thing, one could probably also map this to a biological divide where men are useful for what they accomplish and women are useful just by virtue of being women. But what it comes down to is learning that the quality of your excuses don’t really matter, its success or failure that matters. Competitive sports are an artificial and cabined way of enacting these and other manly lessons in miniature. Like other attempts at cabining, it doesn’t work very well,* but that doesn’t per se invalidate the attempt.

          • Niemand

            There’s a certain value to knowing how and when to “fight on” or work through difficulties. There’s also a value in learning when to give up because this isn’t ever going to work. Because sometimes things just never will work out no matter how much effort you put in and you’re better off figuring out some other way around the problem or finding a different goal. I suppose both can be learned through sports, but both can also be learned in other areas.

  • Maiki

    I think courage can still be built even in a world with soft corners. If anything, the challenges can be greater. Courage can be built by giving up lesser goods and pleasures, and trusting in the greater good. In a world with soft corners, sometimes there is no force compelling our choices (e.g. giving up treats because you cannot afford them is not the same as doing so in the middle of a banquet). The courage comes not only in receiving the pain or forgoeing the pleasure (which might be done quite involuntarily), but in the conviction that the suffering is worth enduring.

  • Kristen inDallas

    I’m comining thoughts here with some of the points in the article last week. And I think there’s an important distinction to be made between building “normal” courage by assuming the inherrant risks associated with whatever particular task and that of “reckless” courage that makes a risky situation even riskier for the sake of the ego. I’m a big fan of sport (and sports) and I see the value in building the body, engaging in leisure, perfecting the art of the sport and the teammanship of organized sports. BUT, when someone is deliberately cheating the system to ensure they can stay on the field when cuncussed (as described in last weeks article) that doesn’t have a thing to do with courage, and frankly it’s spitting on every value inherent in playing sports in the first place. 1) cheating the way the rules are supposed to work, 2) nothing leisurely about playing through an injury 3) what does it say about one’s respect for/confidence in a teammate if he think’s he can do better with a brain injury than the second stringer could do fresh off the bench? 4) What does it say if the person cheating the brain-injury detection is a o-lineman, who by playing injured is not only putting his own body in harm’s way but also risking the body of his QB who he’s supposed to protect (with a fully functioning brain)? To me that sort of thing just screams ego, and I really can’t see a shred of virtue in it. Even IF we could all agree that organized sports serve a valuable function of sharpening courage, that can happen completely by playing by the rules of the game.

    • +1 for this comment. Nicely done to get back to the concrete issue at hand (as wonderful as the above discussions were philosophically)).

  • You’re getting a lot into what improvements you need morally and what your moral risks are, but I don’t see much on what your basis is for generalizing to the general population.