Reflections on Parkland: What is Courage?

In the Parkland high school shooting in South Florida, just a few miles from my home, we saw the extremes of human fortitude in the persons of Coach Aaron Feis and Deputy Scot Peterson. Peterson, a trained security professional, stayed outside while a shooting was in progress in the area he was hired to defend. Feis, a man not charged with the safety of others, protected them with his body at the expense of his own life.

I have thought about the idea of courage often; my writings on disaster preparedness presuppose that a certain amount is necessary to be resilient in the face of adversity. Yet, can a person really know what they will do when faced with a decision that can cost them their life?

girl-on-cliff-looking-out

Some just naturally run towards the sound of gunfire, while others naturally run in the other direction. The Department of Homeland Security recommends going the other way in their “Run, Hide, Fight” triad for active shooter events. There are those, however, who will run towards danger. Many of these individuals are or were in the military, law enforcement, and fire/emergency services.

Examples might be hitting the beach on D-day, running into the World Trade Center on 9/11, or perhaps the nurse who ran into the building to help victims of the Oklahoma City bombing. In many of these instances, they knew they were in danger, but went above and beyond.

Courage takes other forms as well. If you were, for example, the first African-American student in an all-white school district during the civil rights era or the first woman cadet in a military academy, you’ll never have to prove your bravery and determination to me in any other way.

You might think courage is an inborn virtue, constant over a lifetime. I’m not sure about that. I, personally, was a fearful little boy, then became a (stupidly) fearless teenager. I eventually morphed into an average adult. Now, in my golden years, I may have more of a tendency to head towards the sound of gunfire; after all, what have I got to lose at this point? Sit me in front of a doctor telling me that I have cancer, however, and that might be a very different story.

Then there’s the fortitude it takes to re-invent yourself. I don’t consider myself to be particularly courageous. After I retired from the active practice of medicine, I was tempted to take up golf. It was something I had tried years before but was, frankly, terrible at.

man-sunset

Instead, I decided, in the wake of Hurricane Katrina, to write a blog about preparedness. That led to writing books, podcasts, a YouTube channel, and an entirely different career all about teaching others to survive natural or man-made disasters.

It’s hard to teach courage, but you can foster motivation in people. If people are taught the importance of something, they might be more apt to defend it. Loving something deeply also gives you the motivation to be brave in its defense. I can’t think of something more important than the lives of our young people. Coach Feis realized this, and acted accordingly.

Is courage contagious? Fear certainly is. If 50 people around you drop to the floor at the sound of gunfire, you might do the same. If those same people run towards the sound of gunfire, you might, too, although it puts you at risk.

You might consider this foolhardiness rather than courage (Homeland Security does), but, where a gunman is concerned, you’re more likely to stop the killing by doing something other than laying on the floor in plain sight.

Speaking of fear, courage is not the absence of it, but rather, the overcoming of it. There is physical courage and there is moral courage. Our founding fathers were men of wealth and privilege, and it would have been very easy to support remaining a colony of England. But they realized the importance of freedom, and put their fates and fortunes on the line to bring forth a new nation.

man-old-looking-at-camera

Activism is a form of courage, but courage is not just the act of speaking up; sometimes, shutting up and listening to opposing viewpoints takes fortitude as well. If more people would sit down and listen to each other, we might come more easily to agreement on a lot of today’s controversies. This takes more courage than keeping a closed mind.

If we are to be resilient in the face of adversity, it is courage, above all other virtues, that will make it possible. If we are to survive as a society, it will be because of the fortitude and strength of our citizens to pick up the flag, so to speak, and move forward. That goes for active shooter incidents and it goes for every obstacle you face in life.

About the Author: Joe and Amy Alton are the authors of the #1 Amazon Bestseller and 2017 Book Excellence Award winner in medicine “The Survival Medicine Handbook”.


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In the aftermath of the devastating tragedy at Parkland, there is so much to reflect on. One key aspect for reflection being - what is courage? In this article, we reflect on the idea of courage and those that showed it in the face of evil.

    1. I’m at the point where it’s hard for me to dismiss theory out of hand (explain Vegas, Benghazi, this sheriff, etc). But can you elaborate?

  1. Scot Peterson: a name that should live forever in infamy.

    I LOLed at his attorney’s eventual explanation for this armed waste of oxygen’s inaction: It was because he thought the shots were coming from outside the school buildings.

    It took me all of a millisecond to mentally reply: “Well, if that’s what the cowardly moron thought, why did he not get his sorry behind inside the building pdq to protect students and staff from a threat that he thought had not yet entered and become lethally imminent?

    I have maintained from the beginning that Peterson was merely observing what is now the prime directive of police “work”: Officer Safety. That pretty much rules out risk-taking and engagement with an armed threat until, well, he disarms himself or goes away. So the officer goes home to dinner. And the victims leave in ambulances and body bags.

    If only they’d allowed Coach Feis to be armed! His family should sue the school system, the BCSO and the FBI to financial ashes.

    1. It would just roll off their backs. They’d all just point to the federal government’s Gun Free School Zones act, and claim the issue was taken out of their hands. And if there is no record of the coach ever having asked the principal or school board to authorize him (the only escape clause), no suit will hold.

      End Sovereign Immunity NOW. Government drones should pay for their lethal “mistakes” the same way they would make us pay.

  2. He’s a cop and the SCOUS has ruled that cops as a group, have NO duty to protect civilians from criminals. “To Protect and Serve” on the cruiser door means ‘the STATE’, ie the gvt…ie gvt bureaucrsts. Same went for the 3 OTHER armed gvt workers(deputies) outside, huddled behind their cop cars, w guns and probably body amor. Funny how the radio cal transcript shows clearly that the SRO said “shots INSIDE”.. YET the lefties are clamoring for “gun control”….their agenda must be something other that protecting kids at schol…

  3. Kind of foolish to “try” using your body as a Shield ! If Mr Feis had put his mind and body together with some forethought he SHOULD have Grabbed the little b-tard at the Door to his Class room and Pummeled his worthless demented body ! Your body is NOT a Shield !

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