One of our habits: to employ words without knowing their precise meaning or at least without ever having reasoned about the entire extension of the phenomena that they represent. Let us examine, for instance, what cowardice is.
It means weakness, the opposite of courage – which is a virtue. We shall discuss courage at another opportunity. From common sense we extract the idea that a coward is a person who avoids situations of violence, especially physical violence, on account of being very fearful; fear of getting the worst, of being beat.
Generally speaking, cowards are men who had a very troubled childhood. They were the weaker kids. They cried more easily than most of the boys. In fights, they always got beaten up. They were a constant object of mockery and unfounded ridicule; the scapegoat and the aim for the discharge of annoyance or aggressiveness in the group. They felt deeply ashamed of their lack of aptitude for payback.
A more accurate observation reveals that these individuals are extremely sensitive creatures of a very emotional nature who, in spite of having gone through the mentioned events during their childhood, are incredibly concerned for the well being of others. These are individuals who have great difficulty to harm others, especially those in situations of inferiority. Because of this reluctance, they often prefer to endure damage to themselves instead of resorting to aggressive attitudes, even if in a justified defense of their own rights. They prefer to hurt themselves than to harm others. When they involuntarily offend someone, they feel very bad about it.
From that one extracts another definition: a coward is an individual who is afraid to hit, not to get beaten!
In fact, it would be difficult to understand cowardice as the fear of being beaten, since what is more frequent in the life of a coward is exactly that, by force of his lack for retaliating capacity, those around him profit by it to exercise continuous and unnecessary aggression. Therefore, a coward is one who always gets beaten up.
So then, can cowardice be a character flaw? Is it really the antonym for courage?
Multiple are the hypotheses that we could bring forth about this incapacity for aggressive action, not only in conditions that would be socially acceptable, but even when necessary: excessive sensitivity and concern for never hurting others because it would arouse incredible feelings of guilt; fear of his own aggressiveness, felt deep inside as very intense; a highly repressive education of the aggressive impulse, to the point of being unable to give vent to it even when desirable, etc.
This last hypothesis is certainly the one that will seduce a greater number of adepts, for our culture most definitely views man as an evil and aggressive animal. All those who do not meet this pattern must, in a certain way, be handicapped. Cowardly individuals see themselves in this light for they regard their cowardice as an illness. They complain about their condition and often try to find help in an effort to transform. In the great majority of cases one realizes that they do not change and in reality did not want to transform absolutely.
I prefer to regard their reduced ability to react aggressively even when provoked as the result of acute and intense sensitivity and concern for their fellowmen. “Cowards” are often energetic and active people, who, when motivated by humanistic ideas that effectively convince them, acquire an enormous capacity for action in the defense of those ideals.
Translated by: Norma Blum