***Editor’s Note: This is piece is an adaptation from a talk Carrot gave at a recent honors conference.
Just about a year ago I was standing in the front of my classroom teaching an honors ethics class when a message came in: Honors Capstone Trip has been cancelled. Something that was lingering in the background just became a little more real to the people in that room, myself included.
Despite that message, we did our best to refocus, and finish the lecture. We were talking about John Stuart Mill’s Utilitarian Standard, and while we did finish the conversation, I doubt it was very impactful as the weight of uncertainty took control of our attention.
Little did I know, that would be the last face-to-face lecture I would give for over a year and counting.
The first wave came quickly, it was in May that I received an email from the mother of one of my students; she had lost her 18-year-old son due to complications from COVID-19. A week later I received another email detailing the loss of my dear friend and mentor. Since that final face-to-face class, SARS-CoV-2 has claimed nearly 3.2 million lives and that number is still rapidly climbing.
Since that final face-to-face class back in 2020, we’ve witnessed the world change right before our eyes. We’ve witnessed the best and worst of what humanity has to offer.
I don’t need to denote all the details of the last year, and I’m not trying to focus on doom porn, but in the shadow of getting back to living, it’s easy for apathy to settle in. And I think it’s important to remember…to remember the concern, and the fear, and confusion of what comes next, to remember the pain and heartache, to remember what we’ve lost or given up, but also to remember that we’ve made it this far. To remember the little things that helped get us here, those small laughs in the face of fear were powerful tools. For most of us it hasn’t been easy, but you put one foot in front of the other and kept on going.
And while that might not seem like much, sometimes just taking small steps is the most courageous thing you can do!
I would be remiss if I didn’t share something from the annals of philosophy to support the notion that sometimes the bravest acts come in the form of seemingly simple actions.
Socrates loved his home city of Athens more than nearly anyone or anything, and he believed that if you truly love something you should do whatever you can to protect it. And so, when Athens found itself in a great war with Sparta, Socrates joined the army. As the war waged on, a battle ensued. Now the Athenians were no great warriors, but the Spartans were coming, and the city of Athens had to be defended. The Spartans on the other had were battle tested warriors and had little doubt that they would crush the Athenians with little resistance.
So, this battle ensued and as you would expect the Spartans were mowing down the Athenians left and right, they were inflicting a level of death that the Athenians couldn’t have possibly imagined.
Fear kicked in and the Athenians began to run in retreat.
Socrates looked at courage as a chief virtue. There was no way he could run away in fear, that would be an act of cowardice, but there was also no way he could stay and fight the entire Spartan army on his own, that would be the epitome of foolishness.
So, Socrates caught between running away or staying and dying did the only thing true courage would allow. He turned his back on the Spartans and began to walk away as if he was taking a stroll in the park. Putting one foot in front of the other, he just walked, knowing at any second, he could be killed.
When the Spartans saw this, they said ‘no one lays a hand on that guy, if you touch him, you die next’ (You want to kill one of those cowards running away go right ahead, but no one touches him). When the Athenians saw Socrates, they felt ashamed for running, they eventually followed his lead and went on to regroup.
That’s it, that’s the end of the story…BUT!
For this act Socrates was given commendation for courage in battle, not for fighting or killing, but for staying calm in the face of adversity and ultimately for being able to put one foot in front of the other despite the desire to run, or the desire to quit!
You didn’t pick for the world to fall to pieces, and you didn’t make it this far overnight, you made it this far by putting one foot in front of the other, and while that may not seem like a big deal, that act takes courage! This was and continues to be one of the most difficult times our generations have faced, and I don’t know what’s coming next, but I do know you made it this far. And I commend all of you for taking those steps no matter how big or small they were, I commend you for making it to where you are today.
So, whether it’s a climbing project, a graduate degree, the outline of your next book, or the deadliest global pandemic we’ve seen in 100 years, you just keep on moving, keep putting one foot in front of the other…you’ll get where you need to be!
Because sometimes courage stems from seemingly simple things!