Aristotle says that virtue is found in the mean between two extremes, but this does not mean the middle. Rather, it is the balance, often weighted to one side. Thus, generosity is a mean between miserliness and profligacy, but closer to the latter than the former, and hope is closer to presumption than it is to despair, for God far more wills to save us than see us damned, and in his munificence, showers His gifts upon us.
So too courage, which is far closer to recklessness than it is to its contrary, cowardice.
The reader may decide which was more on display in the recent school shooting in Uvalde, Texas, with 19 elementary-age children and two teachers gunned down by a disgruntled and deranged young man. We don’t fully know what happened, but there are reports that the police stood outside, listening to the gunshots, and did not enter for about an hour or so. The only action they apparently took was to pepper spray and handcuff parents who did want to enter, and do what they might, even unarmed, to stop the carnage.
Yes, one might argue that we should strive first to talk a would-be killer out or down from his plan. But if he is armed and dangerous, ready to shoot or already started, then the sooner they’re neutralized, the better, and the lower the body count. As the motto of the British SAS (Special Air Service) has it qui audet adipiscitur – he who dares, wins)
The reader may recall a similar tragedy at École Polytechnique in 1989, when all the men walked out of the classroom, leaving the women to their fate. Whatever one thinks they should or might have done, they were not armed police officers. There seems something decidedly more strange at Uvalde.
Who knows whether the truth of what happened in those fateful hours will ever come out. But as the old adage has it, it is not enough for justice to be done; justice has to be seen to be done. And if people have the perception that our police lack courage, well, where does one go? Keep in mind that courage has more to do with the willingness to suffer harm than to inflict it. For it is not brave to strike at those who cannot strike back – that is the mark of a bully, who is almost always a coward at heart. Courage is to stand in harm’s way, even suffer harm oneself, in order to protect others, or one’s own principles.
Here is a clip I ironically and serendipitously happened upon the other day, a deleted scene from the first Lethal Weapon film. Yes, it’s cheesy and unrealistic even for that series. But behind all the Hollywood machismo, given a choice, better a semi-psycho Mel Gibson, than someone standing in a hallway listening to children get executed, one by one…until it all goes silent.
(Caveat: Some crude language and violence)