I am not a natural-born adventurer. People who bungee jump at the Grand Canyon or drive a Nascar speedway at 175 miles an hour within a foot of the car in front fascinate me, but I’m too chicken to be envious. I drive a harmless, unassuming Mazda, and I prefer my snow-capped mountains to be part of a majestic horizon along the scenic route. Most of us do not express our courage in climbing high or zooming fast and far. It takes a certain kind of courage to do those things.
For me, courage ranks about as high as any human attribute can. But like many people who lack a death-defying streak, my courage has developed along different lines. I think most of us believe in living principled lives and demonstrating values like openness, honesty and integrity. At least, that’s what I was taught…although, flawed as I am, I have stumbled many times along the way.
Nevertheless, I’ve learned that it takes courage to live openly, honestly and with integrity. I’ve seen what happens when people don’t. A friend who lacks courage may not stick up for us when the going gets rough. A boss who lacks courage may not go to bat for us in the face of pressure from on high. Parents who lack courage may rob their children of the tough lessons that build character. Children who lack courage may not want to face the debilitation their parents suffer in late life.
In the ordinary scheme of things, courage is essential for speaking up at the meeting, for declining the invitation of colleagues who don’t share our values, for telling a friend we will not lie for them. You may find, as I did, that people who lack courage routinely resort to side-stepping the truth, and they usually believe it’s natural for others to do the same, all in the name of “keeping the peace”–one of the biggest lies of all.
A friend of mine once asked me to lie for her because she lacked the courage to be truthful with another friend. She believes in “avoiding confrontation,” which she considers a noble quality. I don’t, and had to tell her no. That was a bit of a challenge for me because I knew it would impact our friendship. It did.
Courage is critical for living our dreams, for quitting the job we despise, for changing bad habits, and challenging our limitations. Courage enables us to shed the behaviors and circumstances that keep us at odds with true joy, peace and contentment. I believe that when we practice, develop and nurture courage in ourselves, it is nothing less than an act of kindness.
Many years ago, my husband and I were stationed at an Air Force Base outside Istanbul. Every month, the Officer’s Club put on a variety show called Merhaba-Gule-Gule (Hello, Goodbye) to welcome arriving officers and bid farewell to those returning home to the States. Heaven only knows why they asked me to do one of the shows, but young and impulsive as I was, I actually said yes. My role as emcee was to say something amusing and entertaining about each person who was coming or going, sometimes as many as a couple dozen.
I had five weeks to prepare, and I can’t tell you how many times I had my hand on the phone ready to call and throw in the towel. I was scared to death. I had never spoken in front of an audience, let alone entertained them. What was I thinking?
But some little voice in the back of my head kept telling me that if I gave up on this, I would never be able to summon the courage I’d need down the road. Funny, how that little voice is so often right. I did the show with seven hundred people in the audience, along with the Inspector General (IG) team that had flown in on business from Weisbaden, Germany. (Oh, great–just shoot me now, I thought.)
I had practiced and practiced, getting comfortable with every line I wrote. And wonder of wonders, the show was a success and I received a commendation from the Wing Commander. Believe me, I say this humbly because that little voice had been right–years later, when I became seriously phobic, unable to get on a plane, sit in a crowded room, cross a bridge, or step into an elevator, I drew upon that moment of courage and success in front of seven hundred people to help me face my darkest fears. It worked. That memory helped get me through those times of terrifying anxiety and worry.
Many people believe you either have courage or you don’t, you’re either born with it or you’re not. I don’t know. What I do know is that we can consciously consider the easy path or the more challenging one, and every time we take the more challenging one, we show ourselves, and perhaps others, a kindness whose reward will multiply and bless us through the years in ways we never imagined.