You are not you. Who you think you are, the story you tell yourself every day, is an illusion. Humans are animals with very real animal needs and senses plugged in to a living, primal animal world. At the same time, people are bundles of history and interaction and decision and compromise. Somewhere in the mist, between your animal self and your decisions, you tell a story to yourself. . . In a very real sense, it is your life’s work. The damage to the story can have longer-term effects than damage to the body. The risk to the story, to your self-image, status, and ego can generate far more fear than mere physical risk. . .
[My friend] doesn’t remember the fights that he won and lost growing up, but he does remember the one fight he backed down from. In third grade, he was challenged by a bully and ran. Nearly seventy years later, it still haunts him. You will find this scarring in many people, if you look. They did not act the way the person in their private story was supposed to.
-Rory Miller, Meditations on Violence, pp. 41-44.
I have learned all too well that it’s not the fights you won or even the fights you lost that keep niggling away at the edges of your conscience: it’s the fights you failed to fight when you knew damned well that you should.
-Poetrooper, “Good Enough to Die For.”
A man who has nothing which he is willing to fight for, nothing which he cares more about than he does about his personal safety, is a miserable creature who has no chance of being free, unless made and kept so by the exertions of better men than himself. As long as justice and injustice have not terminated their ever-renewing fight for ascendancy in the affairs of mankind, human beings must be willing, when need is, to do battle for the one against the other.
-John Stuart Mill, “The Contest in America,” Fraser’s Magazine (February 1862); later published in Dissertations and Discussions (1868), vol.1 p. 26 [as cited in Wikiquote]
Edit: And now a fourth
I found myself passing harrowing, remorseless judgment on myself. I had not turned out to be the man I had once envisioned myself to be. I thought I would be the kind of man that America could point to and say, “There. That’s the guy. That’s the one who got it right. The whole package. The one I can depend on.” It had never once occurred to me that I would find myself in the position I did on that night in Al Kroboth’s house in Roselle, New Jersey: an American coward spending the night with an American hero.
Pat Conroy, a Vietnam War protester, upon realizing he’d gone off script.