In ancient times courage was one of four primary virtues, the others being wisdom, temperance and justice. Courage was seen as the most critical as it was thought the other virtues relied on the presence of courage before they could show up and blossom. In personal transformation work such as counseling courage is vital to progress. It’s not something found just in a moment of high anxiety or fear but is always there, awaiting access by any of us at any time. It is truly, “ready when we are.” “To summon our courage” is another wonderful phrase that gives away its true nature. It’s not always present, with us, but can be brought forward any time or in any situation. We DO, however, need to call for it and we DO need to pay attention to its voice.
Summoning courage has many recipes. For some it springs from commitment to something that has deep meaning. It energizes them to the point of actively (and easily, for them) demonstrating to others what they care about or what gives them purpose in their life. Without a depth of meaning you can engage some actions but they are more likely rooted in compliance, not commitment. And while there are thousands of charities or political causes with reliable supporters, not all of those people have a deep connection to their own true meaning and purpose which compels them to take time off from work to march in a demonstration or even rise up and resist a cruel or unjust government or other organization.
Courage can also involve different structural forms in our lives, involving only you and me, or larger groups, or interactions between even larger entities – towns, states, nations. If I value safety and my friend’s home is robbed I may automatically feel courageous about setting up a neighborhood watch, then to find out that neighborhood safety is also meaningful to many others. I may value self-respect and when a peer or superior at work disrespects me I find the courage to assert myself with purpose to show I’m a self-respecting person. Countries can also stand for themselves and the principles they believe in, and in this way courage is not an individual trait alone, it is also a matter of collective will.
The other important aspect of courage worth thinking about is that it’s not at all a “me against you” concept. While dramatic literature and religion can often rely on narrative devices which emphasize courageous acts and conflict (man kills bad guy, saves girl etc. etc.) the more profound and powerful kind courage is when we confront ourselves - who we are and what we might become - and question the whys and wherefores of all of it. We can then undertake the fear-laden work of questioning the makeup of our character and embedded nature. It’s only when we summon the courage to take on our own certainties, beliefs, and long-held convictions that real change and new learning and personal growth can occur. When we stop thinking of win and lose for us in relation to others and dedicate ourselves to learning about what’s within that we can truly begin to change our well being, sense of safety and self-worth, and how we engage with everyone every day – all for the better. And it’s well worth it, this tough internal work, because after this courageous journey comes contentment and compassion. And, not coincidentally, these are precursors to building the capacity for genuine love for yourself and then others.
Finally, courage is not about being devoid of fear. Rather, it’s being aware of fear and still moving forward anyway. Contrary to popular misconceptions, it’s perfectly fine to reflect on your life and even make big decisions WHEN you are afraid, just not BECAUSE you are afraid. There’s a difference. The later is blind reaction; the other is being fully present, focused, and committed. Best news of all is we all have the capacity to activate our own courage and let it lead us through life’s challenges.
Click on "view the list" below to see the Best Five Ways to Show Courage and a few principles to help you learn and strengthen your own courage muscles.
Living for the love of it,
Dawna Grigsby with Alan Daigneault
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