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In Sight of Ourselves: 6. Valor (November 16, 2001)

Valor--to face danger with determination. The word "valor" is derived from the Latin, valere, meaning to be strong, be of worth. The word "value" has the same origin. Valor is a demonstration of psychological strength or will nourished by a deep sense of personal worth. Valor, of course, is related to courage.

When I asked a group of grade school children what courage meant, a third grader raised her hand and said courage was "Making the decision to do what you know is right." Valor and courage mean looking fear in the eye and doing what we know is right despite the urge to flee. Shlomo Breznitz said, "It is when fear dictates 'run' and the mind dictates 'stay;' When the body dictates 'don't' and the soul dictates 'do' that the heroic battle is being wage. Life shrinks or expands in proportion to one's courage."

On August 18, 2001 an alligator attacked 14-year-old Edna Wilks as she and a group of other teenagers floated on boogie boards in a Florida canal. The young woman was pulled under and spun around in a tornado type attack used by alligators to kill large prey. When Edna managed to escape the grip of the alligator and surface, she discovered that all her friends had fled to the safety of shore. Everyone, that is, but one-14-year-old Amanda Valance. Despite the presence of the alligator, Amanda helped Edna, who was crippled by a broken and bloody arm, onto the boogie board. She then pulled her thirty feet to the shore, a distance that would have been too far for Edna to reach on her own. Edna had lost so much blood that she showed no blood pressure at the hospital. She narrowly survived the attack. What made Amanda Wallace stay in the water to help her friend when the other young people fled? From her hospital bed, Edna reported what Amanda said to her. "She saw his tail whipping around in the water, and she told me she thought to herself she couldn't let me die." Amanda admitted that "For five split seconds, I felt like I had to leave, but I could not do that to her."

In the horrible attack on the World Trade Center on September 11, 2001, Michael Benfante, 36, and John Cerqueira, 22, brought a disabled woman in a wheelchair down 68 floors in the World Trade stairwell to safety. At any time, the exhausted duo could have abandoned the desperate woman. Cerqueira later said, "In the back of my head I could hear my mother telling me to get the heck out of there. But I had to help." It is fortunate for Edna Wilks and the woman in the wheelchair that Cerqueira listened to his conscience instead.

Were these reactions foolish? No more so than the firefighers who went up the steps at the WTC. They are dramatic examples of the courage to make the decision to do the right thing. We may not be called on to respond in such a dramatic fashion. But the small, every day acts of overcoming our own fears makes us all heroes. Now is the time to discover the valor that resides within all of us.

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