Fear, Courage and Paul Hogan

I Reckon most people’s notion of “courage” is a little simplistic.  Paul HoganI saw an interview with Paul Hogan once, where he was asked about his famous hero episode. Apparently, back before he was famous, when he was a rigger on the Sydney Harbour Bridge, he became a bit of a local celebrity by leaning off the Bridge and with one hand rescuing some fellow who’d half-heartedly decided to commit suicide. I was too young to remember it at the time. The interviewer commented (like many before her) that it must have taken an awful amount of courage to dangle by one arm four hundred feet above the harbour. Paul said that it took no courage at all, and that anyone in his position would have done exactly the same thing. His questioner looked more than a little sceptical at this, and said that she doubted if she would have had the courage to do it. Paul’s reply stuck in my mind. He said that it doesn’t take any courage if you don’t have any fear. He worked the bridge for a living, scampering around up there like a monkey ten hours a day. He’d gotten used to it, of course, and had no fear at all about helping the poor bastard down. If she or someone else off the street had done the same thing, then they would have indeed been a hero, but not him. It was for him, quite literally, nothing special. And he’s right, of course. Courage is about conquering fear, not about doing unusual things. You and I, for example, would think nothing of going down to the park for a picnic. But an agoraphobic would need a tremendous amount of courage to do exactly the same thing. One who has no fear, no fear at all, cannot possibly be courageous (furthermore, they’re probably an imbecile). Why am I mentioning this? Well, since last November (actually even before last November) I’ve been told by many people, both at home and abroad, that they think I’m really courageous for packing up my life and heading off randomly into the world for a year or more. Of course this is lovely to hear, but it makes me feel a little uncomfortable. Like Paul Hogan, I don’t feel courageous at all – again because I have no fear of doing this. On the contrary, I have a substantial fear of staying put and watching my life slowly erode into monotony. Perhaps that’s an exaggeration, but travelling is certainly the easier option for me. I’m not without my fears, of course (fear of failure and fear of not being liked are my two biggies, if you’re interested), I just don’t have any fear of travelling or uprooting my life. Oh, while I’m on the topic, I also get quite a lot, “Oh, you’re so lucky to be able to do that!” I get this from young, single people, probably more often than I get it from older people with families. Luck? What’s luck got to do with it? It’s all a question of wanting to. If you feel it’s important enough, you’ll simply go, despite not having enough money, despite being afraid of upsetting a safe life and a secure job, despite the fear of not knowing what’s going to happen to you or how you’ll survive when the money runs out. I mean, seriously. What’s there to be afraid of? This is the Nineties. It’s not like you’re going to be eaten by a Tiger, get lost at sea or catch smallpox! Your life will still be there when you return (if you want it, that is). These days there’s really nothing to be afraid of. But you can’t explain that to these people. I’ve given up trying. These days I simply reply, “yep, I sure am a lucky guy.” They never notice the irony.


One Response to “Fear, Courage and Paul Hogan”

  1. Mark Says:


    Visit Mark

    I was thinking about this a bit more today….
    I now reckon that there’s no such thing as courage. Courage is not any sort of intrinsic quality that a person can ever have. In other words, there are no courageous people.
    Instead, I would put it like this: Courage is a word people use when they witness someone else doing something that they themselves would be afraid to do. In other words, if I see you quit your job, or jump out of an airplane, or slay a fire-breathing dragon, I might say, “Gosh, that was courageous!” What I’m really saying is that I myself would have to conquer a great deal of fear to do that.
    The person that we are accusing of being courageous never actually feels courageous. They’re doing what they do because they have a particular need or desire, and that need or desire is motivating them to live a particular way. They may indeed have had to conquer a fear to do it, but their need or desire was stronger than their fear.
    In other words, they did what they did because the alternative (not doing it) was worse. If asked, they would never say, “Oh yes, I was feeling particularly courageous that day.”
    I didn’t feel at all courageous when I left to go travelling, and Paul Hogan didn’t feel courageous saving that bloke’s life.
    Courage is like that cardigan that your grandmother knitted you. They’re always convinced it suits you perfectly, but it never quite fits…


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