In the early days of sailing,it was observed that rats could sense the sinking of a ship before anyone else,and its been the most popular metaphor for humans bailing out of sticky situations ever since. Ships sinking in this century is virtually unheard of unless its been overcome and looted by pirates in Somalian waters. Its seriously bad luck to be a passenger on a luxury cruise liner that sinks in shallow waters in a placid,calm sea,with a captain,who is among the first to sneak a lifeboat for himself and flee for land,crew and passengers be damned. Its no surprise that Captain Schettino of the shipwrecked Costa Concordia is the most reviled man in Italy today,likely to be held up as an example of what never to do for people opting for a career in sailing.
Sadly,there is no clearly defined test for courage. As someone who drives at 60 kmph on an empty highway and startles at the sound of crackers around Diwali,I feel a little sorry for Schettino who acted purely on human instinct to save himself from the stricken ship. Common sense should have told him hed never be able to get away with it and he should have suppressed his natural instinct to flee and hung in there. Hell have enough time to ruminate over his impulsive and gargantuan mistake in isolation,in jail. His reckless selfishness,though entirely human,is all the more shocking since history is replete with examples of extraordinary bravery by ordinary folk,in similar circumstances. Like the musicians who continued playing on the Titanic to calm panicky passengers while it sank. In Indian mythology,five Pandavs defeated 100 Kauravs in war,with one of them torn by the moral dilemma of fighting his cousins and questioning the very meaning of courage. Bravery is a popular theme in literature and movies. In The Dark Knight,the Joker threatens to take over Gotham pitting two ferries of people against each other,who refuse to blow each other up.
Similarly,could you ever imagine a Bollywood hero hiding from the bad guys and abandoning the damsel in distress?
Right now,courage is cool. Its an essential survival tool to make it through a grim economy and tough,uncertain times. It touches on personal ethics,core values and risky behaviour. In modern life,some of us test our bravery quotient through thrill-seeking pastimes like bungee jumping or sky diving or extreme sports. Kids want to boast about going on death-defying roller-coasters or sitting through spine-chilling horror movies because its cool. TV programmes like Survivor and Big Boss (which severely tests mental endurance) get the highest TRPs. My favourite show on physical hardship is Wipeout,on AXN,where contestants of all sizes have to get through a uniquely designed obstacle course to win a $50,000 cash prize. They trudge through mud,battle waterfalls,get punched but somehow,one of them manages to finish. These may give you an indication of how your bravery measures up but there is the safety net of quitting. Unless your life is genuinely under threat,you cant be certain of how youll react. And sometimes,just doing your duty,or your job,can be the most courageous act of all.