“It is better to live a coward than to be dead as a hero”
My informant said that this proverb is best explained by another proverb that he heard growing up which is “Cowards live to fight another day”. In the environment that my informant grew up in, these proverbs were said a lot by the adults in the community. There was a heavy gang population in the area where the informant was raised. A lot of racial tension between black people who were poor and those living in middle class neighborhoods and also a lot of tension between the black gangs and the Mexican gangs across town. There were deaths often and many times young kids between the ages of 11 and 14 would get caught in the middle of gang fights and end up dead as well. When my informant was a teenager these proverbs annoyed him as he felt that there was nothing worse than cowardice, but now he can understand why the adults in the neighborhood tried to paint cowardice in a semi-positive light. These proverbs say that sometimes your pride isn’t worth being killed over. As long as you don’t die you can live to fight for that pride some other time. Of course my informant admits that’s much easier said than done. I found my informant’s explanation very informative and have nothing to add to it.