Courage is a virtue and heroism is admirable, but do we have a right to demand them? Which of us cannot look back on his or her own life and remember decisions, or compromises made, or silences kept because of cowardice, even when the penalties for courage were negligible?If we are cowardly in small things, shall we be brave in large? Have we the right to point the finger until we have been tested ourselves? When we read of the seemingly lamentable conduct of the captain of the Costa Concordia, Francesco Schettino, who left his passengers to their fate, do we say, “There but for the grace of God go I”?Of course, leadership entails an obligation to be courageous – morally, physically or both. It is the price of leadership; it is why leaders are more highly regarded and rewarded than the rest of us. But even subordinates in certain professions have the duty to be brave, as the rest of us do not. A soldier is expected unquestioningly to put himself in the way of bullets as a civilian is not.
There follow a couple of colorful stories of bravery from Dalrymple’s medical career, and a nuanced conclusion.