There’s no such thing as cowardice.
What I mean is that cowardice isn’t a personality trait. No one’s actually a coward. No one’s “yellow-bellied” through-and-through. It’s not some mark of Cain, a permanent facet of oneself. Cowardice is momentary, oftentimes a symptom of something else that needs to be addressed.
I say this knowing I’ve shown remarkable cowardice in my recent past. I’ve ducked out of important topics on social media because I didn’t want to deal with the trolls. For a while, I stopped submitting my stories to markets because I didn’t want to deal with more form rejections. (As a writer, rejection is 90% of your life. The other 10% is caffeine.) I did this because I was in denial over some issues in my professional life, and I was avoiding situations where I’d have to speak the truth.
Those old war movies, the ones with the characters written in broad strokes? Besides the determined sergeant played by John Wayne, there’s the coward, the atheist in the foxhole, who has to “get over” himself to be the hero the country needs. This happens while a patriotic score plays in the background.
In real life, that John Wayne character doesn’t exist. Everyone is “the coward.” And we’re not afraid because it’s some defect of our personality. We’re afraid because there are things to be afraid of.
No one is a coward. You are not a coward. Here are some alternative explanations:
- It’s a life or death situation, and you’re stuck in a fight-or-flight panic.
- You have PTSD, and whenever a firecracker is lit you flash back to that IED igniting under your car.
- You have an undiagnosed anxiety disorder and your brain chemistry is off-balance.
- You’ve just had a s**t week and need time to recover.
You are not a coward when you don’t submit that story. You are not a coward when you stay with that abusive spouse. You are not a coward when you don’t speak up to your coworkers. You are not a coward when you can’t leave the house today.
You are not a coward.