On Courage by A.G. Gardiner
In On Courage by A.G. Gardiner we have the theme of selflessness, courage, control, shame and individualism. Taken from his Pebbles on the Shore collection the reader realises after reading the essay that Gardiner may be exploring the theme of selflessness. The soldier on the Formidable by giving his seat away on the life boat acted selflessly. He thought of others before he thought about himself which shows that the sailor had both physical and moral courage. He sees it as being fit that somebody else who had family should survive over him. He gives very little thought to his actions as he has no time to react to the water sinking the ship. His approach to matters must be swift in order for his comrade to survive and many readers may suggest that the element of bravery shown by the sailor is rare. What is also interesting about the story is the fact that those who have fought in Belgium though having courage. Gardiner sees it as being odd that the day after Christmas fighting resumes between both sides. It is as though there is no respite from the control that the soldiers are under.
Which may be the point that Gardiner is making. When it comes to the matter of courage an individual must decide for themselves as to the course of action they are to take. Twain’s friend being an example. Though he may have committed a cowardly act. He has in his life made up for the mistake he has made. He also knows that he has to live with his actions for the rest of his life even if he knows that should he revisit the event he would not pull the life jacket from the woman. A man cannot be judged on one single event in their life even if those who judge an individual feel as though they can. A man’s total actions must be taken into consideration rather than having judgement placed on them for one mistake. No matter how serious that mistake may be. Everybody deserves a second chance. The fact that Twain’s friend was also acting on impulse must be taken into consideration. Though the man feels shame he must learn to forgive himself for what was an impulse.
Gardiner also appears to be suggesting that with courage comes bravery. A person for example running into a fire to save a child is not only committing a courageous act but it is also an act of bravery. Something that many people may think they would do but the reality is should they be faced with the situation at first hand. They may not be so courageous or brave. Courage also sets men aside from other men something which is clear to Gardiner when he hopes that he too would be courageous should circumstances dictate. However the reader senses that for most men there would be an element of doubt in what actions they should take. It is easy to speak of courage and bravery but more difficult to actually act on one’s impulses in a manner that might be considered courageous or brave. The sailor for example risked certain death in order to help somebody else. This is an act that many might not commit themselves due to human instinct taking charge and self-survival becoming paramount. It is difficult to judge a man when one has not walked in his shoes. Twain’s friend may have acted impulsively and given very little thought to others. Yet what would another person do if they were in his shoes.
In reality everybody is an individual and will react differently to the circumstances that they might find themselves in. Some people will show courage, both physical and moral. While others will not be as giving and will naturally think only of themselves. As Twain’s friend did. Both approaches will have a downside. Firstly there is the prospect of losing one’s life when the moment arises. As happened with the sailor or society without having the right to will judge the individual for the same actions they themselves might have taken at the time. Society is quick to determine what a courageous act is and what a cowardly act is. Though when it comes to a cowardly act society will not walk in the same shoes as the supposed coward. It is easy to judge but difficult to act with courage regardless of who the individual may be. Those who act with courage are rare and should be appreciated. Their efforts are to be applauding and praised. However those who act as a person would normally act are left to live their life ashamed of their actions and judged by society for what they might have done. In many ways by not acting courageously a person risks the possibility of becoming an outcast in society.