Similarly in line with my earlier essay about my preference for the number three, I have another philosophical concept I posit before you.
I call it The Three Borders, and in fact these borders are difficult to perceive.
These are not lines between states – well, not political states anyway, but rather states of mind. The world and our perception of it is nothing if not subjective, and I have no doubt that someone else has thought of and written about my idea before more. Often enough, I see reference to at least one of the Borders, but never all three at once.
So let’s dive in.
- Madness and Brilliance
Simply put, we always ascribe the term ‘mad genius’ to a person or character with an obviously uncommonly high intellect, but equipped with some eccentricities as well. Such individuals can just as easily be of such an elevated level of creativity that they see themselves above the normal conventions of law, morality, and social conduct – making clearly unusual people to observe or to interact with – as they can be completely unaware of such things anyway, so focused are they on whatever endeavor into which they poor themselves.
The concept that creativity and mental illness are connected is not a new one. Modern science has continually shown that painters, writers, inventors, performers – creatives all – tend to be more prone to developing various psychoses; but there are plenty of people who exhibit a “normal” level of creativity and appear “normal” to their peers.
But I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again: it’s the normal ones who scare me.
In any case, I’ve still yet to read any findings in regards to whether one causes the other, or which comes first. But, one could suggest that the divergent thinking of eccentric minds would lead to creative (or at least alternative) solutions to any given problem. A spark of madness, though, might be what it takes to ignite a flame of creativity.
As for me, I’ve yet been unable to really determine the exact border between the two. Perhaps the difference is that, while both do not adhere to convention, the reason behind such lack of adherence is the determining factor. Is convention, normalcy, purposefully shunned or simply unimportant enough to be noticed?
- Cowardice and Intelligence
We see this in fantasy fiction a lot. Any setting where a battle is on the horizon, or a duel about to erupt. Even (especially?) in political intrigue – fantasy or otherwise – we see a veritable rat’s nest of people exhibiting of high amounts of intelligence, cowardice, or both.
It’s almost always in reference to the idea of retreat. Retreating from the face of the enemy on the proverbial battlefield is often enough considered an act of cowardice by the pursuer, or an act of tactical intelligence on part of the one running away.
Run and live to fight another day. This phrase, and similar variants, is oft repeated by the hero – or more often, the hero’s loyal friend, close at hand and restraining said hero – when it would a good time to leave.
Kind of like how in any fight you’ve seen on T.V. where your protagonist, whether evenly matched or in fact smaller than his larger, much more powerfully-built opponent, strikes the adversary in a tender area. When the bad guy delivers a knee to the groin or a hit to the pre-existing gunshot wound, the audience jeers. When the hero produces a knife and slashes the enemy’s leg in a moment of bring held prone, or the time-tested favorite of, yes, punching the big guy in the dick, the audience cheers.
Are so-called ‘cheap shots’ acts of intelligence or cowardice?
I suppose it depends on who you’re routing for. Especially if it’s the good guy, or yourself.
Honor has a problem discerning the two. Or, conversely, discerns the two too hastily. To flee and show your back to the enemy – most dishonorable and cowardly. Unless, of course, your plan is to lead them astray and ambush them later. Then it’s smart. Though, even an honorable opponent would label such ‘dirty tricks’ as cowardly.
I’ll never forget a moment while playing Warcraft 3: Reign of Chaos many years ago with a friend (as an ally, with us playing against computer opponents), and while we were engaging the enemy, I ordered my army in for the attack. When the battle went from unfavorable to grim, my friend pulled his forces out while mine continued fighting. I remember calling him a coward, and his reply was “No, smart.”
To this day I’m certain that had he remained, I wouldn’t have lost my army and we would’ve taken them down.
I’m pretty sure we lost that match because with my forces depleted, the enemy was able to move in and surround his base with an army twice as big. It would have been equal had we stood together.
Was my friend’s flight a tactical retreat? Undoubtedly. But in that circumstance, like many we see in fiction, the real act of cowardice isn’t necessarily about the flight itself, but the intention – and repercussions. It’s leaving others behind for the sake of self-preservation.
This border also takes some thought to really distinguish. What I’ve come to understand, as a general idea in helping tell the difference, is essentially this: if the act is born of selfishness and without regard for (or worse, at the direct expense of) others, then it is cowardly. If the act is born of a cool head and a desire to minimize loss, then it is intelligence.
- Stupidity and Bravery
The third and last of the Three Borders is that to be found between these two. It most often comes up when trying to describe a hero, or supposedly heroic act. How do you tell whether a person charging head-long into a dangerous situation is either fearless or an idiot?
One of my earliest memories came about when I was no older than five or six. On a dual-family day-trip to a swampy-lake place we called Wilson State Park, where my father would bring his canoes and kayaks, I was off with a friend some distance away from the group. I remember not how I found it, but I can distinctly remember holding a small snake; having been catching ringnecks, garders and red-bellies since a very young age, this came natural.
But thinking back, it might have been a copperhead, which is notoriously lethal. In any case, I wasn’t bitten, but I remember seeing it threaten to bite me as I held it.
My friend, a girl a few years older than me, remarked that I was very brave. We likely had no idea of the snake’s toxicity if any, but like many people she probably regarded the snake with revulsion. As such, my handling the writhing thing may come off as brave to anyone, except that to me I was just playing with a cool-looking animal I had found.
I have no doubt that I was stupid, not brave. I don’t have a fear of snakes these day, but I do have what I call a very healthy fear of poisonous things.
The difference between being brave and being stupid is that when one is foolish, they simply aren’t aware of the danger.
A brave person is at least partially aware of the danger, but carries on anyway, and often enough with some regard (if not a complete dedication) toward others.
Which individual comes off as possessing more bravery to you?
The one who says: There’s nothing to worry about;
Or the one who says that they themselves are in fact scared, but do whatever they do in spite of the danger?
Firefighters make a great example. Most people would not dare run into a burning building. It’s kind of a stupid thing to do. But, of course, firefighters are trained professionals; they are aware of the risks and are prepared in more ways than the average self-described street hero. No one would describe the firefighter profession as stupid.
But it arguably takes a certain degree of ‘lack of thinking’ in order to perform acts of bravery, wouldn’t you say? After all, thinking too much is paralyzing, and that’s certainly something you don’t want. Particularly in a situation where not only yourself, but others, are at risk.
Much like the other Borders, it’s not necessarily the act itself, but the reasoning behind said act that would label it as either that of foolishness or valiance.
What do you think?