I wrote this a year ago for an English assignment, but I find it to be especially relevant after the tragedy that just happened in Arizona.
"Courage is what it takes to stand up and speak; courage is also what it takes to sit down and listen" - Winston Churchill.
I love this quote, because I think it has a lot of parallels with our society today, and really just life in general. People tend to think of courage as having the guts to "take a bullet for someone," or go skydiving, or give a speech in front of thousands of people. Courage has always been mistaken for action, because that's what people are exposed to the most; every day we watch television and hear stories about the soldiers in Afghanistan or the dude who climbed to the top of Mount Everest and think, "Wow man, that guy must be so brave." But there are so many other aspects of courage that are often overlooked, and the ability to "stand up and speak" isn't necessarily the most powerful of them all.
There are two forms of cowardice that are prominent in American society; apathy and ignorance. People who are afraid to stand up and fight for what they believe in are apathetic; maybe they just couldn't care less about what's going on in the world, but usually it's the mindset of "well, it's not like anything I do is going to make a difference," that stops them. That's fear; fear of failure, of not being heard.
Ignorance is just the opposite; it's having the ability to shout out your own opinion but then failing to sit down and listen to what the other side of the discussion has to say. People hate what they fear and what they don't understand, so they push it away and ignore it. Because maybe, just maybe, if you listen to what everyone else has to say, your opinion might change, and that scares people too. It's a fear of being wrong, and a lot of people can't accept that.
When looked at closely, it's all just layers, and you have to keep peeling and peeling to find what's really underneath. These are just masks people wear to cover up their insecurities. All the extremist, right wing "teabaggers" waving around picket signs and screaming about the evils of Obama's Presidency, and making a crosshairs map targeting people who support something they don't agree with (which, SHOCKER, can actually lead to violence), think they're so courageous by exercising their freedom of speech, but they're not, because they can't find the strength in them to sit down, shut up, and listen to what the rest of the world has to say. I think ignorance is the most lethal thing any society can fall into, because when people stop listening to each other, it becomes a continuous cycle of arguments and nothing ever gets solved. And falling into that cycle is what I'm afraid of every day.