The Art of beign a Coward

March 23, 2018

Do you know someone who could be defined as a coward? What are the reasons that you would describe them this way? Can you justify this belief? At work, in our family, or in our group of friends. . .we all have someone close to us whom we can label as cowardly. Cowardice is one of the essential characteristics of the human being. While often judged and labeled, we forget that in certain cases it remains an adaptive strategy for us.

We can all look back and find multiple occasions in which we felt doubt. We may wonder what the outcome would have been if we had acted differently in those situations. Perhaps, when analyzing these situations, we see that cowardice was behind many of these doubts.

Cowardice goes hand in hand with fear and conformism. They are inseparable. If there is no fear behind it, it is not cowardice; perhaps just the desire for comfort, but not cowardice. You can be a coward in several ways: at the emotional level, at the behavioral level, or even at the cognitive level.

“Cowards are those who take shelter under the rules.”

– Jean Paul Sartre 

What makes a coward?

There are several ways to show cowardice. The most obvious is reflected in behavior. Beyond what we can feel or think, there are moments when a situation asks us to act and we don’t. This is a reflection of “no reaction”, of paralysis, insecurity. . .we can try to form a thousand justifications. This is the best known and most visible form of cowardice. We can easily recognize it in others and even in ourselves. In those moments in which we don’t say “I love you”, “leave me alone”, “no, that’s your job, do it yourself” . . .

people arguing about being a coward

How many times have we ignored unhappy thoughts instead of facing them? We can also be cowards of thought. Maybe there is an idea, a situation, or even a memory that bothers or scares us and, instead of taking time to process it, we try to pass it by. Even though we know it is in the pit of our stomach, the tightness in our chest. When others bring it up, we evade, change the subject, or show forced indifference.

“A coward is a person in whom the instinct of conservation still works normally.”

-Ambrose Bierce

Finally, there is the emotional coward. They choose not to feel so they won’t suffer. They see emotions as a complication and their solution is to run away from them. Others may not understand them, but those who flee from fear, sadness, affection, or anger have their reasons. This could be because of difficult past relationships, childhood trauma making it difficult to express empathy, or even bad experiences as an adult that make them fear they will lose control.

Why do we behave like this?

Whether we are cowards or someone we know is a coward, the feeling of cowardice can lead to incomprehension, disappointment, and even anger. Why do we act in a cowardly way? For both the brave and the cowardly, there is the same answer. A large part of our bravery has to do with the number and quality of the skills and personal training that we have.

“It becomes clear that there are only two kinds of cowards: those who flee backwards and those who flee forward.”

-Ernesto Mallo

hand grabbing woman

Fear is an emotion shared by all. However, cowardice is an attitude – the position we adopt in the face of that fear. You can still act in the face of fear, it is logical and human. The tools we have picked up to manage our emotions and respond in a balanced way can help us. We can use strategies to solve problems, generate alternatives, and guide our behavior in one way or another.

Overall, cowardice is an element we all have to deal with, whether in ourselves or with other people. We would do well if we relied on empathy and tryied to understand (though not necessarily support) the motives that have incited cowardice. If there is fear, develop tools to learn, listen to others, reflect, share fears, and train ourselves to overcome them.

At work, in personal relationships, or even in activities that frighten you . . .fight against cowardice. Remember things are not black or white, all or nothing. Everything has steps and, little by little, we can leave behind cowardly thoughts, actions, and feelings.