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Why Courage and Stupidity Are Basically the Same Thing

The line is just so thin

By Aaron PacePublished 8 months ago 3 min read
2

Scenario A

A 20-something young woman stands at the top of a 50-foot cliff that gradually descends into a choppy lake below. Half of her friends are yelling at her not to do it. The other half, encouraging her. They all know she's a strong swimmer.

She backs away from the edge, uncertain she can make the jump from the edge of the cliff to the water without hitting land. She jumps anyway and narrowly misses the land as she executes a near-perfect dive into the deep water.

Seconds later, she breaks the surface to the cheers of her friends.

Scenario B

A 20-something young woman stands at the top of a 50-foot cliff that gradually descends into a choppy lake below. Half of her friends are yelling at her not to do it. The other half, encouraging her. They all know she's a strong swimmer.

She backs away from the edge, uncertain she can make the jump from the edge of the cliff to the water without hitting land. She jumps anyway and narrowly misses the land as she executes a near-perfect dive into the deep water.

Seconds later, she breaks the surface to the cheers of her friends with the young child everyone saw drowning safely cradled in her arm.

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How would you judge these two scenarios?

If I were presented with the two scenarios above, independently, I would deem the first foolish and the second heroic.

For the young lady, both scenarios had similar outcomes: she cleared the land at the bottom of the slope and safely executed the dive.

The first scenario could easily have been a college party accompanied by plenty of alcohol and dares to do stupid things. In either scenario if she hadn't cleared the land, there could have been a tragic end.

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Both courage and stupidity have potential for painful consequences. Both require action in the face of potential danger and may require facing one's fears.

"Courage is knowing it might hurt, and doing it anyway. Stupidity is the same thing. And that's why life is hard." - Attributed to Jeremy Goldberg

Some people argue that the main difference between courage and stupidity is the possession of good judgment. A courageous person knows the possible danger and acts anyway. A stupid person, on the other hand, has no knowledge of the consequences and thus feels no fear in action.

Of course, the preceding statement, in many instances, is definitely not true. We all know people who have done stupid things with full knowledge of the danger involved.

What's interesting is that certain sports, like motocross, football, and free-climbing, are incredibly dangerous, but the more a person succeeds in doing something that is arguably stupid without serious injury, the more they are celebrated.

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It seems, then, that there are only two significant differences between courage and stupidity:

  1. Motivation
  2. Outcome

Motivation

Going back to the scenarios above, the young lady's intentions for jump were very different. She was the same person with the same abilities jumping into the same water. One could have been motivated by selfish desire to meet a dare. The other, by a selfless desire to save a drowning child.

Outcome

Outcome occurs independent from motivation but the way we view it often isn't.

If she had hit the land instead of the water, both would likely have ended with tragic injury but the headlines would read very different: "young woman dies attempting to dive on a dare" vs. "young woman dies attempting to save a drowning child".

Consider the emotional reaction of person reading those headlines.

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We've all heard stories of individuals doing things we've judged as "incredibly foolish and heroic" which also implies a person can be both stupid and courageous or courageous and stupid. (Isn't it also interesting how the order of those words changes the connotation?)

So, maybe courage and stupidity are like twins - one of them educated in an institute of higher learning and earning a mid-6 figure income while the other spends all his time in the live studio audience of "The Price Is Right" hoping to strike it rich.

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Thanks for reading!

self help
2

About the Creator

Aaron Pace

Married to my best friend. Father to five exuberant children. Fledgling entrepreneur. Writer. Software developer. Inventory management expert.

Reader insights

Nice work

Very well written. Keep up the good work!

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