Where does the courage come from?

What is courage

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If you have the word courage in your name, you will not be spared dealing with the term. “You can't expect anyone to be a hero, my mother said occasionally,“ but that he behaves properly, yes. ”What she understood by decent behavior was what I would call little courage, namely always to say what you think, and if that was too dangerous not to say anything. She was in line with my father's line, except that he rarely said nothing at all. That is why he was classified as "politically unreliable" during the Nazi era and sent to the Eastern Front, where he was shot in 1943.

A younger brother of my father's, Herbert Frischmuth, who was not yet twenty, secretly sneaked out of his parents' hotel in Altaussee at night during the July coup in 1934, to fight illegal Nazis who had carried out a coup in Klachau, 30 kilometers away, represents my father's great courage fight. He was killed in the process, and when none of those who owned a car dared to drive my grandmother and father to Klachau, my father's friend, an Englishman named Frank Tong, who was just on holiday in Altaussee, declared himself to be ready to drive them both in his red sports convertible. An aid that also required courage, because there was still shooting. Herbert had bled to death from a shot in the chin, and since his face was disfigured, he could only be identified at first glance by the belt he borrowed from my father.

Since I was born seven years after my uncle's death, I did not know Herbert. Much has been said about Herbert neither in the family nor in the region, just as little about the resistance fighters that existed in the Salzkammergut. Either because they were believed to be communists, which some of them were, or because one of them assumed too much power after the end of the war and lost a sense of proportion in the process. Or, more likely, because they didn't make the usual excuses and risked their lives for something that seemed important enough to them, such as freedom, independence, humanity. They also disturbed the balance of blame, had a greater vision and were convinced that the 1000-year Reich would not work. Some were said to have been daredevils by nature. They also had to do this in order to desert from the German army, to be trained as parachutists by the English, then to jump over impassable terrain in the winter of 1945 in order to undermine the so-called Alpine fortress, which the Allies had by far overestimated.

To risk your life

Herbert had shamed his five brothers, including an illegal Nazi and one classified as "politically unreliable", and what he was doing was considered to be juvenile irrationality. He did not want to become a builder, doctor, lawyer or hotelier like his brothers and was considered to be rather clumsy. Almost 80 years after his death, I admire his quiet courage, even if he was unable to achieve anything he risked his life for.

Courage that wants to make a difference needs the public to show what it is supposed to do. Whether it is the fight for freedom of expression or against racism, for social justice or against poorer conditions for women, for mutual tolerance in matters of religion, the courage to engage also needs to be staged in order to be noticed. The more drastic the performance, the greater the chance of achieving something with it. Too much showbiz can also lead to sideline if all shades of gray are faded out because of the sheer black and white.

Courage is seldom innate, but has to be learned. As in the case of the little girl who asked an adult to push her off the five-meter diving board. It already knew how to swim and wanted to show that it would be fine even after jumping in cold water. But it needed a push to be as brave as it wanted to be. The man who pushed the girl (the stepfather) was reported by others and had his hands full explaining the matter to the gendarmerie.

My favorite of the stories that show us how many ways one can be brave is that of Sándor Weöres, a great Hungarian poet. I knew him and was allowed to translate some of his poems. He was an introspective linguist who occasionally became a faun. Weöres told me that in the early 1950s a state official had walked up and down with him on Budapest's Margaret Island for hours to persuade him to write an ode to Stalin. "And," I asked, "what did you do?" "Nothing," he replied. "I feel like a renaissance poet and could have written an ode to Stalin, but I wasn't happy." He got away with it. For me this is the most casual answer a poet has ever given to dictatorship: "I wasn't happy!" And at the same time a very subtle kind of courage, because it could have turned out differently.

Courage is similar to art. Five minutes of world fame is refreshing, but turning it into ten minutes takes a personal approach. Courage must also be borne and covered by oneself.

Today a lot of commitment is possible in Central Europe without it costing our heads. A good time to hollow out the stone drop by drop. A small country like Austria, which comes from a much larger and multi-ethnic past, still does not want to see itself as a country of immigration - all of the countries of Europe are meanwhile - and finds it difficult to take an unbiased look at immigration. Does not see the enrichment where it could be, only the damage where it is. It therefore not only takes moral courage to commit, but also cunning and wit to make the ossified fronts vibrate. And a persistence in approaching the so-called strangers, which can also consist in learning their language.

I was nineteen when I went to Istanbul alone and on foot. In the early 1960s, Istanbul was a city that had no more inhabitants than Vienna, 1.2 million, and had just been through a military coup. Not necessarily a safe environment for a young European. There were construction sites everywhere to make the Byzantine ruins suitable for tourism. I wanted to see everything and kept getting into precarious situations. But whenever the construction workers got too close to me, I started to swear at them in Turkish, just as they would have been sworn at by their wives.

Mostly it ended in laughter and hospitality. Precisely because I was trying to speak a language that I didn't expect from my mouth. I was flattering the patriotic feelings of these men, I know. But the method had something of its own. It often worked better than calling the police. In a modified form, I'm still trying it today. Drop by drop by drop. (Barbara Frischmuth, album, DER STANDARD, May 24/25, 2014)