The World Wants To Know

Varlam Shalamov was a brilliant writer who was sentenced in 1937 to years of hard labor in a Soviet gulag. What were his crimes? The same crimes that brought most people to those frozen hellholes: Finding themselves on the wrong side of a totalitarian regime. Random bad luck. Daring to criticize the powers that be. For not being communist enough. For not confessing, though that hardly would have saved him.

There he was in one of the darkest places a human could be, and what did he find? He found deep insight into the human condition. “I discovered that the world should be divided not into good and bad people but into cowards and non-cowards,” he wrote. “Ninety-five percent of cowards are capable of the vilest things, lethal things, at the mildest threat.”

When we ask about courage, we are thinking about it precisely wrong. It’s not our question to ask. For it is we who are being asked the question.

In Cormac McCarthy’s dark and beautiful novel All the Pretty Horses—in a dark prison not unlike the one that Shalamov actually occupied—Emilio Perez puts the question to John Grady like this:

“The world wants to know if you have cojones. If you are brave?”

That’s more appropriate. With the obstacles life puts in front of, with the decisions it requires of you, the world is asking you about your courage. Friend and enemy alike. Every minute of every day. Because we need to know.

Are you one of the cowards? Or are you someone we can count on? Do you have what it takes?

Seneca would say that he actually pitied people who have never experienced misfortune. “You have passed through life without an opponent,” he said. “No one can ever know what you are capable of, not even you.”

The question to you now and forever is, when things get difficult and the chips are down, who will you join? Will you be a coward? Or will you defy them and be brave? Be courageous? Have cojones? Or perhaps, less gendered, will you have a spine? Will you stand up or roll over?

Today, answer these questions not with words but with actions.

P.S. Courage is Calling: Fortune Favors The Brave comes out tomorrow! Today is the last day to pre-order your copy and to get the awesome pre-order bonuses I put together over at

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