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Having the guts to push through fear

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Remembering his own life as a tough guy, Robert Nylen offers some thoughts on the meaning of courage.

The Vietnam veteran tells how he once traded stories with an RAF pilot about their most gutless moments. For the World War II pilot, it was popping his parachute by mistake three times in a row during takeoff. He finally got airborne on the fourth try.

Nylen then recounted how, while in officer candidate school, he twice in a row loaded mortar rounds the wrong way, earning himself the nickname “Candidate Upside Down.”

“There we were, Keith and I, admitting that neither of us was as tough as we pretended to be,” Nylen says, adding that if he’d been in the pilot’s seat, he figures he’d have tripped the chute 10 times, plus crashed the plane.

The important thing, he adds, is to push through fear.

Nylen thought the Roman emperor Marcus Aurelius offered a thoughtful routine: “Say to yourself: I shall meet today ungrateful, violent, treacherous, envious, uncharitable men. … I cannot be harmed by them, no man will involve me in wrong, nor can I be angry with my kinsman or hate him, for we have come into the world to work together.”

Michigan law professor and author William Ian Miller defines courage as “the spiny side of caring for others.”

And lexicographer Samuel Johnson, said: “Courage is reckoned the greatest of all virtues because, unless a man has that virtue, he has no security for providing any other.”

— Adapted from Guts: Combat, Hell-raising, Cancer, Business Start-ups and Undying Love, Robert Nylen, Random House.

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