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Wednesday, December 5, 2012

Words To Live By 4: On Courage

by Seattle Jon (bio)

Words to Live By is a series featuring short selections by eminent men and women from the mid-twentieth century. Originally published in This Week magazine, the selections represent a mosaic of what people were thinking and feeling in challenging times. Read previous entries here.

On Courage
by Alfred Lansing (Author of Endurance: Shackleton's Incredible Voyage)

"Men wanted for Hazardous Journey. Small wages, bitter cold, long months of complete darkness, constant danger, safe return doubtful. Honor and recognition in case of success." - Sir Ernest Shackleton

Sir Ernest Shackleton was an Antarctic explorer. To recruit men for one of his expeditions, he rant the forthright want ad quoted above in a London newspaper.

Sir Ernest wasn't joking. The ad proved grimly prophetic for the brave men who volunteered for the three Antarctic expeditions he led. On one, the ship itself was lost, along with most of the supplies. The men spent 21 months in a living nightmare, camped on drifting ice or struggling toward civilization in three tiny boats.

Yet the men who had signed up for the "hazardous journey" not only refused to give up - they somehow managed to remain cheerful. And they won. Every last one of them returned to civilization alive.

In his want ad, Shackleton had promised "honor and recognition" - and it was heaped upon them. But actually they had earned something much, much greater. Shackleton himself later sought to put it into words: "We pierced the veneer of outside things," he wrote. "We suffered, starved and triumphed, groveled down yet grasped at glory ... we reached the naked soul of man."

Nowadays, it seems, security is all-important. Too often, I feel, we are satisfied to play it safe, to aim only for the "sure thing." And while most of us still dream of making some sort of "hazardous journey" in our lives, not very many really make them. As a result, our lives many be safer and saner - but we may in the end be making a world in which fewer and fewer every catch a glimpse of the magnificent naked soul of man.

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