Everyday life is about ordinary people who show tremendous courage in their daily endeavors, adventures and struggles. Courage is the kindergartner whose heart is pounding with fear as she waves goodbye to her parents and walks up the stairs for her first day of school. Courage is the 43-year-old man who registers for college courses after 25 years away from the classroom. Courage is the woman who leaves her secure job to work from her home as a freelance writer. Courage is the person who stands up to defend someone who is the target of racial slurs or prejudices. Courage is anyone who walks into a clinic to put “poison” in their bodies to fight a disease. What’s common to all these examples is that courage is demonstrated by everyday actions of ordinary people.
It is imperative that we celebrate this courage. We can all seek out, look for and notice the myriad examples of courage in ourselves and in others. Let’s catch people being courageous. By noticing, talking about, and celebrating these everyday acts of courage, we increase the chance that courage will reoccur. When we heighten our awareness of courage, we realize just how bravely we tackle each day of our lives and how strong we are.
Courage is not the absence of fear. Truly, none of us live without fear. Courage is not the same as feeling brave and fearless. A more powerful perspective is seeing courage as acting in the face of fear. Doing what we choose to do, even when we feel afraid. Most of us have had this kind of experience at one time or another. Most of us can recall tons of times when we acted independent of our fears. These times exemplify the essence and meaning of courage. These are the times when we felt the fear and still did what needed doing. The notion that courage is about our behaving in the face of fear is so basic, so obvious, that it may barely seem worth mentioning. Think again.
A common theme of self-help messages is that we should get in touch with our feelings. Own them, express them, scream, hit a pillow, etc. Above all, feel our feelings. This advice can be useful. People who stuff their feelings for years can be unpleasant and act a little crazy. But paying attention to our feelings can be taken to an extreme. The extreme where feelings drive the bus. We may think that we have to “fix” our feelings before we can do anything effectively and we get stuck. Or we may think feelings are the major factors to consider in making a decision and we make poor choices. The truth is we just need to feel our feelings, be aware of them and know that many feelings are likely to change. So, feel the feelings—then act anyway.
Feelings are a little “sketch” (as my 11 year old would say). They seem to be beyond our direct control, and they are fickle and capricious and sometimes unpredictable and unstable. What’s more, feelings can be totally unrelated to external circumstances. Actions are markedly different from feelings. While feelings often elude our direct control, we can always claim full responsibility for our actions and we can be held accountable for them. A crime of passion is still a crime.
This ability to act independently of our feelings means we don’t have to be pushed or pulled by them. This means that when we feel the grip of negative feelings, such as fear, hatred or anxiety, we do not have to act on them or because of them-we can act in spite of them. It takes courage—the ability to act independently of fear—to propose a new idea, create a new widget, come up with an amazing solution, or put good into the world.
What’s so remarkable about this ability to act independently of fear is that we already possess it. It is simply a choice to act. There’s nothing we have to do first in order to gain courage—nothing we need to learn. All that is required is for us to use the skill we already have and apply it to more and more situations in our lives. So courage is not a mysterious quality that’s denied to the majority and dispensed to a chosen few. Courage is a gift each of us has already been given. It is waiting to be used whenever we choose.