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Santiago Álvarez de Mon, Professor, IESE, University of Navarra

Courage, a touch of distinction

Wed, 03 Mar 2010 08:51:25 +0000 Published in Expansion (Madrid)

What do Abraham Lincoln, Vaclav Havel, Thomas More, Gandhi, Teresa of Calcutta, Nelson Mandela... have in common? One of them answers my question. "It is from the comrades who fought for freedom that I learned the meaning of the word courage. Time and again I have seen men and women risk their lives for that idea. I have seen human beings endure attacks and torture without breaking, without breaking down, showing strength and endurance that defies imagination. I learned then that courage was not the absence of fear, but the triumph over this basic instinct. I felt fear many more times than I can remember, but I drowned it in a mask of daring. The brave man is not the one who feels no fear, but the one who conquers and masters it". Mandela's testimony arises from experience, it is not a theoretical philippic. Intelligent and conscious courage, the heritage of honest and upright people who do what a free and cultivated conscience morally demands of them. What is the reason for this outburst? Poking around the most relevant topics of the week, except for the seismic tragedy in Chile, none as relevant as the death of an innocent and brave citizen. I am talking about Orlando Zapata, Cuban dissident, whose only sin was to believe, from his inalienable dignity, in freedom. Outrageous the reaction of the Brazilian president, Lula, of visit as a farewell to the sinister dictator. Shameful the silence of "intellectuals" who cry to heaven when the matter ideologically puts them in the spotlight and who disappear when similar regimes are dramatically called into question. The lukewarm and late official Spanish reaction is depressing. There are answers that come from the stomach, that make the heart speak, that are felt by an ennobled soul. Others are advised by aesthetic interests, designed by image consultants. The sincerity of body language - a look, a timbre of voice, a hand generously extended - allows me to distinguish one from the other.

Still pissed off by a double standard that exonerates a miserable political system, our society misses the courage of citizens like Zapata. Courage not to hide behind the polls, without them some people neither think nor act. Courage not to remain silent when it is time to raise our voices. Courage to make difficult decisions, assuming the cost of them. Courage to speak our truth - the truth, who has it? -
Courage to flee from conventionalisms and dare to be oneself. Courage to stop using sales practices assumed by a corrupt industry, wrapped in collective excuses. Courage to tell the boss what I think. Courage to say no, an inspiring and complementary word to the tempting yes. Courage to abandon a business where the best chapters have already been written, the future will only bring tedium and impoverishment. Courage to take that step and try as an entrepreneur, a capital figure in a fearful and conservative country. Courage to recognize that I have made a mistake, learn and resume the march. Courage to ask for forgiveness, a magic and scarce word. Courage not to hide in irresponsibility and to appropriate the meaning and direction of my life. Courage to penetrate the unfathomable solitude, reliable midwife of the best company. Courage to live my noblest values, instead of spouting self-righteous sermons. Courage to stop complaining and do something for others.

If there is one thing that this Manichean, aliccated, tense and unsupportive Spain lacks, it is the courage to grit its teeth, look to the future without apprehension and sweat the shirt. I do not mind writing angry, a sign that I am still alive. And, moreover, hopeful, of course. I make Mandela's words my own: "Fundamentally, I am an optimistic person. I don't know if it comes to me by nature, I was born that way, or by upbringing, but the fact is that I am. I always go around looking at the sun thinking that what is to come will be better. There have been many very dark moments in my life when my faith in humanity was seriously tested, but I refused to give in to discouragement. This path leads you to defeat and death.