Courage and Korea: Why it’s better to be brave than smart

All the native ESL teachers here are brave. I mean, they all left their home country to teach in a foreign land, without knowing the language and – most of the time – without ever visiting beforehand.

All the native ESL teachers are also smart. In order to get a job doing this over here, they have to at least have a Bachelor’s degree.

So the people I end up meeting here, the native teachers anyway, are naturally skewed. They’re more courageous and more educated than most people. This got me thinking. Which is better, courage or education, being brave or being smart?

I think they might be close to the same thing. But taking the usual definition of each, I’d say being brave is better. Here’s why.

First, courage transfers better. If you’re brave in one area, like willing to move to a new country to teach, you’re probably brave in other areas as well.

Knowledge transfers also but not as easily. There are too many subjects: history, mathematics, logic, business, horseback riding, cooking, and so on. Just because you know a lot about one subject doesn’t mean you’re able to use any of that knowledge in another subject. Sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn’t.

Courage has less categories: social (like public speaking), physical (like skydiving), financial (like gambling), and maybe a few others, no where near as many as knowledge. So if you practice being brave in one type of situation, it’ll spill into a bunch of other situations.

Second, courage implies action. If you’re being brave, you’re doing something.

You can be smart without actually doing anything. You might know things – and that’s great – but life is about living, not knowing facts or reasoning your way through complicated synarios without ever acting on them.

Third, courages overcomes the unknown. Courage, by definition, is moving forward when things might not turn out too well.

Knowledge, though, is about what you know. Unless you’re God, you’re missing a huge part of the pie. What you know and what you know you don’t know are only thin slices of all that’s out there. There’s an enormous piece that you don’t even know you don’t know. And most of it, you won’t ever know.

Knowledge is a wonderful pursuit, but it definitely has limits. Courage? I’m not so sure it does.

So what’s the best part about being in Korea? Getting braver, not learning more.