The difference between the diminished individual, wistfully yearning toward full humanness but never quite daring to make it, versus the unleashed individual, growing well toward his or her destiny, is simply the difference between fear and courage.~Abraham Maslow
Courage is an antidote to the fear bred in our society. Without courage, even tasks that require minimal effort can become difficult and seem insurmountable.
I gain comfort, and the insight necessary to face the situations requiring courage in my life, when I remember self-help author Byron Katie’s philosophy: “Reality is always kinder than we think it is.” Intellectual courage often requires questioning our thinking.
Intellectual courage also involves the choice to accept the circumstances of our lives, whilst clearing away the mental phantoms standing in our path towards creating what we want in our life and in the lives of our children. My daughter and I have read Byron Katie’s children’s book together, which helps teach younger children (ages 4-10) the concept of ‘questioning your thinking’…a self-reflective intellectual skill kids typically begin to develop around age 7. I have also used this book with children I’ve treated as a child/family therapist who are dealing with worry, anxiety, or social distress.
Here’s a quick test, when you ask a young child to sing “Happy Birthday” to themselves (in their own heads), you will likely hear them sing “Happy Birthday to you!…” out loud and proud! But, around age 7, when you ask a child to sing the song to themselves, you will not hear anything…that’s the beginning of inner dialogue! Therefore, especially when my kids were young, I was very mindful of speaking lovingly to them…knowing full well our dialogue would soon become part of the background track for their own inner dialogue.
My kids also delight in trying and surpassing me in things that I may be doing for the last time (I think, for example, that my rock climbing days may be behind me now, but indoor rock climbing walls are still a fun challenge). Kids love when we show them our lack of mastery, our humility. Heck, they conquer new things EVERY DAY! I’m sure when they see us struggling to draw a person, answer one of their truly difficult math homework questions, or make our first-ever pie, they might think we’ve drunk some of Alice’s potion, made ourselves small, and pulled up a seat beside them at the playhouse table.
Sometimes developing physical courage requires taking gradual, thought-out risks to gain the mastery, experience, and confidence to take on personal courage challenges like riding a roller coaster, snorkeling and eventually scuba-diving, or white water rafting. Or training for and completing a marathon, and in my case my first half-marathon after babies at age 41. I’m confident I can now run for safety, if need be, and maybe even escape a lion’s reach!
More often than not, courage requires moving out of my comfort zone and putting myself out there for others to evaluate: writing a blog, for example! Public speaking, learning a new skill or hobby (especially in adulthood), admitting and facing the consequences of my mistakes/wrongdoings, trusting and following my heart (even if it means switching course midway or midlife), making new friends—all these acts require me to muster social, intellectual, emotional, and moral courage.
Thankfully, more often that not, like most of you reading, I choose to live life head-on, instead of shrinking from life’s demands and responsibilities—that choice, for me, for us all, I believe takes courage! For every parent, the choice to get up some mornings—tired, sick, or just plain bored with the routines associated with raising children well—requires courage. It takes courage to put our children and their needs above our own, especially on the days we’d much rather get some much-needed rest. But, they and we are so worth the effort! Today, it’s my kids who inspire me with their courage: moving countries, starting new schools, traveling on their own for school trips, climbing trees, performing in front of an audience, standing up for a friend or cause they believe in, forgiving quickly and continually moving our family forward in the direction of love.
Parenting is the perfect opportunity to put into practice what we’ve learned about courage, to continue to mindfully develop our courage muscles, and to stretch ourselves in ways we never imagined.
It is in the small things we see it.
The child's first step,
as awesome as an earthquake.
The first time you rode a bike,
wallowing up the sidewalk.
The first spanking when your heart
went on a journey all alone.
When they called you crybaby
or poor or fatty or crazy
and made you into an alien,
you drank their acid
and concealed it.
Later, if you faced the death of bombs and bullets
you did not do it with a banner,
you did it with only a hat to
cover your heart.
You did not fondle the weakness inside you
though it was there.
Your courage was a small coal
that you kept swallowing.
If your buddy saved you
and died himself in so doing,
then his courage was not courage,
it was love; love as simple as shaving soap.
Later, if you have endured a great despair,
then you did it alone,
getting a transfusion from the fire,
picking the scabs off your heart,
then wringing it out like a sock.
Next, my kinsman, you powdered your sorrow,
you gave it a back rub
and then you covered it with a blanket
and after it had slept a while
it woke to the wings of the roses
and was transformed.
Later, when you face old age and its natural conclusion
your courage will still be shown in the little ways,
each spring will be a sword you'll sharpen,
those you love will live in a fever of love,
and you'll bargain with the calendar
and at the last moment
when death opens the back door
you'll put on your carpet slippers
and stride out.