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Fools rush in where angels fear to tread assignment

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        Alexander Pope, author of “Essay On Man’, said that “Fools rush in where angels fear to tread”. Should this fool be considered courageous or reckless? The two words should be completely different by definition, but as it happens, both courage and recklessness can be described as an act performed with indifference to the danger involved. The only way to distinguish between the two is to put them into context based on the act itself and the intention behind it.

        A single action can be divided into three parts: the act itself, the intention behind it, and the result. The result of a courageous act can be the same as a reckless act, so the result will not be used to compare or contrast the two. Act and intention, however, are the deciding factors. There are many different types of courage, including moral, civil and virtue.  Each is based on the same premise: one is considered courageous by acting without consideration of the danger to oneself. Remarkably, the same can be said for recklessness. What makes courageousness and recklessness the same is the act itself. For instance, an individual might drive at a speed considered dangerous, in the rain, in order to take a sick child to the hospital. A reckless person might drive the same speed on the same freeway just for fun. Recklessness is often associated with acts that don’t appear to have any redeeming value; but it doesn’t always mean the individual isn’t courageous.

        If the two terms are so similar, how is one to distinguish between them? One must use community standards to find the difference. Let’s go back to the case of the speeding driver on the freeway. The first driver was speeding in order to get a sick child to the hospital quickly, while the other driver was just looking to have fun. The first driver would be considered courageous. The act of saving a life without regard to the danger to oneself is an act of courage. But what of the fun-seeker? Unfortunately, the pursuit of fun without regard to the consequences simply isn’t considered courageous. Speeding on the freeway without a good reason is reckless; one only needs to consult the Highway Patrol. While an officer might escort the first driver to the hospital, the second driver will, at the very least, be given a ticket; at worst, go to jail. The difference between courageousness and recklessness is the intention.

        Extreme sports are considered dangerous and often reckless, but what would happen if the intention were changed? Instead of the adrenaline junkie seeking a quick fix by jumping out of a plane, let’s insert a person who has suffered from vertigo and a fear of heights. Jumping out of a plane would be considered an act of courage.  Now, imagine a man with a wife and children who pursues his dream of becoming a world-class cyclist instead of taking a nine-to-five job and maintaining a steady role in his household. By modern standards, that man would lose the respect of those around him. One might wonder how he can dare to selfishly pursue his dreams instead of earning a steady income, health insurance and a retirement plan. Leaving his family without a safety net is reckless. But what if that man is Lance Armstrong and he is a cancer survivor? His career choice is now an act of courage.

        It is not easy to decide whether an act is courageous or merely reckless. One must consider the act itself and the intention behind it. A selfless act combined with high level of danger earns the title of courageous, while a selfish act with the same amount of danger is merely reckless. That is, unless one plays the cancer card.

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