The Courage To Stay (Part 2) – Historical Examples and Lessons

Hernán Cortés

In 1504, explorer Hernan Cortes left the island of Cuba and landed on the mainland of Central America. He and his 500 men were sent to explore and conquer the territory they found.

When the men learned they were severely out numbered, they tried to return to Cuba. Cortes stopped them with threats and promises of treasure. He then sent his most trusted officers to sink the ships they came in, to cut off their means of escape. The tactic was initially unsuccessful, and attempted again the following night. By this time, the men knew what Cortes was doing, and there was an angry confrontation. Cortes convinced his men this was a war they could win. They agreed to burn the remaining ship, cutting off their last hope of retreat. History records they conquered the Aztecs, taking back much wealth and treasure of many kinds to Spain in colonial glory.

In 1849, Fyodor Dostoyevsky, along with his fellow members of the Petrashevsky Circle, was sentenced to death for what the Russian courts considered

Photo of F. Dostoevsky Русский: Фёдор Михайлов...

subversive activities. At the last moment, his sentence was commuted with a note from Tsar Nicholas I, and changed to 4 years of hard labor in Siberia. Raised in wealth and opulence, the imprisonment was hard on Dostoyevsky’s health, and he suffered life-long consequences. He took out of it a firm resolve to make his writings count, and write each as if it were his last. By facing death so clearly, Dostoyevsky allowed it to rise himself above the trivialities of his life. Initially a journalist, he became one of the most beloved classic Russian authors.

Baden Panorama

Baden Panorama

In the stories of King Arthur and his Round Table, there are tales of the battle of Baden Hill. Arthur and his knights were surrounded, and hopelessly out numbered by their foes. (Who their foes were differs from story to story.) Using the stones of the hill, it is told they built a fort, where they took a small time to regroup and rest. Then, using what they had with horses, men, arrows and spears, they engaged their enemies. They had a great victory, with almost total defeat for their enemies, and some injury but almost no loss of life for them.

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

Like the parable in my earlier post, in these historical examples,I have explored with you, dear reader, aspects of the courage it takes to stay when others are running away. I know, there is a proverbial saying, “He who fights and runs away may live to fight another day.” But oftentimes, he (or she) who runs away might not get their chance to fight another day.

Sometimes, standing and fighting, even in the face of what looks to be insurmountable odds, is the thing you have to do, because you know it’s the right thing to do. It’s often been said the toughest fights are not seen out of people (or creatures) until their back is against a wall, whether the wall be physical or proverbial.

Strategists call this place “death ground.” When a person or group is on death ground, they will fight as if their very lives depend on it, because they do. Sure, running away evades and avoids a conflict that might end in death ground. But staying, even if it means risking a conflict on a death ground, leads to a greater potential of reward, even if the reward is in honor and personal satisfaction, and not treasure or riches.

So, what can we do if we find ourselves on death ground, or with a good possibility of being there?

  1. Take that one and only chance approach. If you’re not already on death ground but it’s close, sincerely consider its risks and rewards. 
  2. Act as if it’s you, or you and your companions, against the world. There is almost nothing more exhilarating than a death ground fought with a good and trusted company of warriors. King Arthur’s Round Table was just such a group.
  3. Do not wait to be ready. Act sooner. “He who hesitates is lost” is a proverb more often than not true.
  4. Stay restless. Don’t seek comfort. As New York Times best-selling author and award-winning blogger Chris Brady says, It’s not a comfort zone. It’s a familiar zone.”

What if you are the aggressor, and your opponent is on death ground? Be aware that opponent has nothing to lose. Death ground works for them, and against you.

The wise understand death ground will come at times, whether they look for it or not, and meet it with courage and strength. Fools run around looking for it, even when they don’t need to, and will even make it happen, for the thrill it brings. Cowards avoid it, fearing its losses and not seeing its potential rewards. Those who have the courage to stay and wisely face the death ground they are given are the ones who rise, rewarded by the love of their followers and the wealth of their experiences there.

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