COURAGE: the final installment in the
Curiosity, Compassion, and Courage 2020 Tour.
Curiosity pushes us to open the box, explore the myth, or initiate a conversation with someone we don’t understand.
Compassion brings an empathetic consciousness to what we find. Our decision to choose compassion is often harder than we expect.
How much easier it is — particularly now, in this uncivil era — to show anger, despair, or even disgust. How much easier it can be to simply walk away.
That’s where courage comes in.
American self-help guru Mark Manson, whom I discovered searching for images for this post (self-help is not my genre of choice), has this to say.
I chose this image because of this phrase:
“Something else is more important.”
Brené Brown has this to say about courage.
And certainly in that moment when someone has just said something we consider outrageous, despicable, or idiotic, how quickly we react.
We must “set the record straight.” We want to show them the “error of their ways.” Or we want to run. These reactions make us feel safe, comfortable, even superior. But they do nothing to help us bridge the gaps that are tearing our country apart.
If we are interested in finding a way to bridge these growing divisions, in holding a civil conversation, in understanding something you’d never thought of before, compassion can help us get there. And compassion in these situations requires courage.
Sir Winston Churchill says “Fear is a reaction. Courage is a decision.”
Nelson Mandela says, “Courage is not the absence of fear, but the triumph over it.”
For Brown, Churchill and Mandela, courage is something we choose. Particularly when we’re afraid.
There’s another view of courage. This one is from Jesper Bugge Kold’s Winter Men, (translated by K. E. Semmel. 2014), a novel set in Hitler’s Germany, 1938.
Gerhard Strangl, the protangonist, is a university math professor who thinks a lot about courage. Here’s an excerpt from page 24:
Although Gerhard had all the prerequisites, the people of his generation were doomed to be cowards. The young had to be mobilized, and there was no better place to do that than the university, where he had a voice. He should educate them, give them the courage to voice their opinions. Should, should. If only there were more people like Weinhart, because it would take a large choir to rile up the country. He cursed himself. This was where he always got stuck. Courage. He simply lacked the courage. All his dreams of saying “enough is enough” of going away, of making a difference were a delusion. When would he learn? When would he recognize himself for who he really was?
He looked at the clock. It was time to go.
This view of courage, as something we either have or we don’t, is more common I believe. And, it can get us into trouble.
I like to believe we each have all the courage we need; it’s just sometimes hard to find, like for poor Gerhard Strangl, above. It gets buried under baggage we’ve accumulated (like the belief that we aren’t brave or, if we were brave, we wouldn’t feel afraid). And the result is we give up or give in; we choose comfort over courage. We sit in the familiar.
Our task in this life, I like to think, is to uncover those layers, embrace our inner demons, and act on our courage.
I think we all have empathy.
We may not have enough
courage to display it. Maya Angelou
During grad school, I was privileged to attend a talk given by Maya Angelou. I was even luckier when, because the room was so full, I was ushered to the stage with about twenty others to sit on the edge, dangling our feet while we listened. I wound up about 10 feet from the imposing force that was Ms. Angelou.
That night I heard her say “Courage is the most important of all the virtues.”
That was a first for me, and I remember I couldn’t buy it. Surely knowledge (we were in a university setting after all), honesty, truth, love, or mercy (pick one!) were more important. Any of those I would have understood.
Over the years, I’ve remembered her words and eventually came to understand her point. And I now agree: courage is the most important of them all.
What is it about courage that makes it the most important?
“Courage is the most important of all
the virtues, because without
courage you can’t practice any other
virtue consistently. You can practice
any virtue erratically, but nothing
consistently without courage.” Maya Angelou
“You can practice any virtue erratically,” she says, “but nothing consistently without courage.”
I’ve tried to weave these three Cs through all of my writings of late, so it should be no surprise that they turn up in my latest book, LEAPFROG: How to hold a civil conversation in an uncivil era. I’ve just released a second edition, rewriting one of the chapters with new information gleaned from a few Non-Violent Communication workshops. I hope you’ll take a look.
How about you? What’s your relationship to courage?
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