What is Social Courage?

Compiled and written by Lisa and Jennifer:

This is the second in the “Six Types of Courage” that we will explore in-depth. We hope you’ve already had the chance to read over our page called “The Six Types of Courage” for a brief overview of our definitions.  The examples we give for each type of courage may apply to your children and/or to you please keep in mind, when you are reading this post, that some of these examples may involve taking “baby steps” on your way to social courage!  Every step towards courage is worthwhile and important.

Social Courage

“Courage is what it takes to stand up and speak; courage is also what it takes to sit down and listen.”  Winston Churchill

“Every man has his own courage, and is betrayed because he seeks in himself the courage of other persons.” Ralph Waldo Emerson

Social courage is standing up tall, being able to greet the world with your head held high, feeling comfortable in your own skin.  Social courage means not conforming to the expectations of others, being willing to show your true self even if it means risking social disapproval or punishment.  It means being able to express opinions and preferences without checking to see if they are in line with “everyone else’s” opinions and preferences.   It helps us apologize and move on.  It is not about attracting or craving attention, it’s about not minding attention.  It’s about asking for what you want or need and offering what you see others want or need. For parents, it means not comparing your child’s achievements with another child’s achievements; for teens especially, it means understanding peer pressure and standing firm against it in its destructive forms.  Social courage often involves helping others, developing a charitable consciousness, and acting on behalf of otherswhether anyone else can see or not.   Social courage is also involved in both leading and following.

For inspiring true stories, ways to recognize and coach social courage in ourselves and our children…READ ON! 

Here’s a three-minute video from earlier this year that shows a young man demonstrating social courage on behalf of his family in a public forum.  He is heartfelt, articulate, and brave. (note: we also love that he thanks his parents.)

Social courage looks like:

  • having a personal style and sticking to it, regardless of fashion trends
  • performing in a play or concert
  • delivering an oral report with confidence
  • inviting the kid who often gets left out to your birthday party
  • organizing a charity event
  • volunteering as a mentor or youth group leader
  • finding role models who reflect our own values
  • stepping away from a clique that has become unhealthy
  • standing up to peer pressure
  • resisting the temptation to lie or cheat, even if a close friend or family member asks you to
  • shaking hands and introducing yourself 
  • traveling to a foreign country where you may not know a word of the language
  • allowing others to shine, succeed, win, and even be right!
  • being on time
  • helping play host/hostess at a family party
  • admitting mistakes
  • running for class/school/public office
  • apologizing
  • keeping your word
  • asking for a raise

Lack of social courage looks like:

  • chasing fashion trends
  • allowing others to make your decisions
  • standing at the back of a group photo or presentation
  • gossiping
  • being a bully or a passive bystander
  • always sitting at the back of the class
  • refusing or “forgetting” to vote
  • refusing to sign up for an after-school or extra-curricular activity
  • refusing to make new friendships and avoiding situations where you don’t know anyone
  • waiting to see what others do first
  • not raising your hand
  • running away from a mistake or accident
  • breaking appointments when something “better” comes up
  • texting or Facebooking bad news to a friend instead of doing it in person

Social courage sounds like:

  • “Hello, my name is ________.”
  • “So what if they don’t like it?  I do.”
  • “I’m gay.”
  • “Yes, I can help you fund-raise.”
  • “I’ve decided to ask ____ out on a date.”
  • “I know it takes time to make friends.  I just have to keep trying.”
  • “I wasn’t invited to her party, but that’s okay.”
  • “I’m trying out for the team/the play/the competition.”
  • “Stop picking on her.”
  • “Here’s why I want you to vote for me.”
  • “I’d like you to meet my family.”

Lack of social courage sounds like:

  • “But everyone’s wearing them!”
  • “Can’t you be more like the other moms?”
  • “I don’t like meeting new people.”
  • “You’re embarrassing me!”
  • “My child isn’t usually like this!”
  • “I don’t like people like that.”
  • “If I do/don’t do _______ people won’t like me.”
  • “People like that scare me.”
  • “I didn’t do it!”
  • “You can’t wear that!”
  • “They’ll all stare at me!”
  • “If I can’t go to this party I’ll be a loser!”

Grab Some Lion’s Whiskers!
Here are some tips for developing social courage for you and your kids:

  • practice telephone etiquette, role-play phone conversations with your kids
  • be a model of courtesy: shake hands, say thank you, greet people by name
  • play Follow the Leader, Simon Says, Mother-May-I?
  • play charades and or deliver short after-dinner speeches from a grab bag of topics for fun
  • have a dress-up or costume box and dip into it often — not just at Halloween
  • participate in school or local government by attending meetings and expressing your opinions
  • if you are a make-up wearer, go without for a few days; if you’re not a make-up wearer, try wearing some for a few days
  • wear a dramatic hat to the supermarket; get your kids clown noses
  • watch some of the videos on Improv Everywhere or Free Hugs Campaign with your kids and discuss what it might be like to participate
  • make sure that family photo albums include everyone—in other words, don’t hide behind the camera!
  • share stories about strong leaders

A great example of a child showing social courage is this boy who asked his local government council if they would build a playground. 

Another way to grab some Lion’s Whiskers for social courage is to do our 5-Minute Courage Workout: A Fate Worse Than Death, which is about public speaking.  Standing up and speaking for what we believe in, or advocating for change we want, or simply sharing what we know, is a great life skill to give your children.
What are your ideas about social courage, your parenting tips to promote it with kids, or your favorite social courage story (fiction or non-fiction)?  We’d love to hear from you!

Here’s more on the types of courage:
What is Physical Courage?
What is Emotional Courage?
What is Moral Courage?
What is Intellectual Courage?
What is Spiritual Courage?

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One thought on “What is Social Courage?

  1. Anonymous

    "Be who you are and say what you feel,
    because those who mind don't matter
    and those who matter don't mind."
    -Dr. Seuss

  2. Anonymous

    Thank you Lisa and Jennifer.I am excited to follow your blog.The past few days I have been mulling over courage…Do I have courage??Do my kids?Examples of courage are so obvious when I think of my daughter who at a very young age put no barriers up for herself.She demonstrated a furious tenacity and an “I can do it” attitude that I knew if she put her mind to it, she would be climbing Mount Everest.Her courage and fierce sense of determination grew as she delighted and openly challenged herself in every opportunity that presented itself and enabled her to stand up in front of a full auditorium of teachers, parents and students and present the valedictory for her grade 7 graduation class.It has continued to serve her well as she left friends and familiar faces behind and entered high school this year.She continues to flourish, has joined various school clubs, auditioned for the drama program, made the school basketball team, has become team captain etc.How is it that my youngest is so capable??Did I do something as a parent to encourage her ability?The answer is not really.I think she was born with this innate confidence.And that is where the definition of courage for me becomes blurred.Yes, I believe shedemonstrates courage when she gets up on stage because for me, that would be terrifying but to her, it is a challenge, exhilarating.Maybe courage is not so clear cut then.What may be perceived as courageous for one person is not for another?

  3. Anonymous

    Hi Ladies – it's Jenn's Annonymous again 🙂 … I like all of what you posted as looks like and sounds like for "social courage".Honestly,I did many of those and encouraged, begged, threatened and coddled my kids way back when to do so as well (not really threatened, but we all know that) – I remember one time my daughter coming home from school upset because someone teased her about how she put her hair up. I asked her how the other girls would have rather she do her hair.She shrugged and said something like "probably like theirs".When I asked her if that was what she wanted, she struggled a bit. She wanted to look like the other girls in order to fit in, but she did not want to cut her hair, or spend hours "doing" something to it every morning, etc.So I said to her "There are leaders and there are followers in this world" "This includes governments, countries and fashion runways" soo, why not just continue to do what you do with your hair, and in a month or so, look to see howmany girls figured out that your way is so much more comfortable and less time consuming.She did, and to this day, she still wears hairbands like bracelets, so she can "throw her hair up in a bun/ponytail" – and she's 26 !!!My son also makes his own style, not following others (not nearly as much) and when his friends are all rappin', he will put out Frank Sinatra – I love that about my kids.

  4. Lisa Dungate

    Many thanks dear readers for already bravely engaging the topic of social courage!We appreciate your poem, your questioning of what courage means to you, highlighting the specific stages of social courage development through community outreach, and the real-life example of how to coach kids to march to the beat of their own drum!Keep the comments coming!We love to hear your wisdom and experience coaching social courage in children.

  5. Lisa Dungate

    One other note, as I wanted to specifically address anonymous #1's comment on Feb. 15th. Your insight regarding the differences between children in manifesting courage–even within the same family, siblings with the same parents, is brilliant.Our research is showing that courage development is a complex interplay of, once again, nature and nurture.The kind of tenacity of personality that your talented daughter possesses may well be related to the fact that much of personality and intelligence is inborn, thus genetically driven.That said, parents/caregivers also have enormous influence on children through loving, 'secure attachment' and providing the kind of opportunities, thus strengthening 'openness to experience' which is strongly correlated with leadership development. I will be writing much more on the relationship that nature and nurture have on courage development.Keep reading, and keep sending in your thoughtful comments.The more parents that share, the clearer our understanding of this complex nature-nurture relationship and its bearing on our children's capacity for courage.

  6. Anonymous

    Thank you Lisa for your reply.Yes, I fully agree that although personality maybe genetically driven, we as parents, have an enormous influence on our children by providing them with unconditional love and security and providing the kinds of opportunities where they can flourish.I believe this holds true for my daughter.

  7. Eleanor Stanton

    In our church's youth group, we spend most of our time helping the group members (middle school through high school) build their relationship skills.We help them practice listening with an open mind, disagreeing with a civil and friendly tone, trusting and being trustworthy, etc.In other words, we try to help them build a sense of community.

    Social courage is hard to build when young people feel defensive… and our schools can seem like war zones to many of them.Funny how courage builds though… first they have one friend in group, then another, this makes them brave enough to risk going on a trip with the group, and by the next year the shy one who never spoke up is leading the others in an activity.

    I never get tired of seeing it manifest or watching it build step-by-step.

    Courage can sound like a solitary endeavor, but I believe that much of it comes from our sense of community.We've all heard of people who won't stand up for themselves but will for a friend or loved one.

  8. Heila

    I am struggling with the aspect of allowing a child to develop a personal style.Intellectually I know that it should not matter what you wear, or how you cut your hair, as long as you feel comfortable in your skin.However I felt awkward in my own skin for a large part of my life, the kid who didn't fit it because she had very short cut hair, didn't like to wear dresses, didn't learn to put on make up when her peers were doing those things.My daughter has dress sense which is frankly a bit weird… she thinks she looks "fancy" in close that none of her friends would wear.I should be happy for her right?But I'm worried that because she is already a bit different in other ways as well, she will end up feeling as socially awkward as I did for most of my school days and beyond.Help me find a better way to think about this?

  9. Lisa Dungate

    Thanks Heila for posing such an important question as a parent: "How do I support my child to be who they truly are, to express themselves authentically in this world–and have the social courage it often takes to do so–even when it triggers our own childhood pain or fear?"It is important, in my personal and professional experience working with parents and their children, that we not project our fears onto our children.Just because we experienced others judgments growing up, doesn't mean our children will…or even that they will notice or care about others' judgments if they do come their way.Challenge those fearful thoughts with questions like:"Is it really true that my daughter is different than others?Is it true that she is suffering even if she is different from her peers?""What if she is different?"Explore your fearful thinking to help defuse its power over you.This can take some emotional and intellectual courage on your part–so be gentle with yourself as you bring consciousness to your parenting and compassion for your childhood self. :)Delight in your daughter's self expression, and consider her your teacher, too, about exciting ways to look at the world and even become more playful with how you dress, express yourself, or otherwise explore this wonderful world with her by your side.Read stories of young heroines (check out Jennifer's bookshelf on Lionswhiskers.com for some good suggestions) that were plucky, funky, brave, and bold who faced down social/peer pressure ultimately proving the heroine in her own story and even admired by others!I'm thinking of Eloise, Hermione Granger, Belle, and many others. The pressures to conform can be mighty, but with love of self and surrounded by the love of family and friends, we are powerful in our authentic self-expression.Trust that life challenges (not that anyone would ever wish social exclusion on a child!) build our character, our insight, compassion, and ultimately our resilience in life.We can't always protect our children from life's difficulties or even tragedies, nor should we live in fear of them.But we can empower our children, offer them opportunities to develop their moral, emotional, social, intellectual, physical, and spiritual courage in order to be better prepared to face and understand what life may have to teach them.In fact, when children don't have such courage workout opportunities, research shows that they are ill-prepared for when life really gets tough.What a gift you are to your child, that you are courageous enough to question your life experiences, what you can learn from them, and how to support your child in her own authentic self-expression (sometimes we need to get out of their way and trust them and their resilience–something my own children have shown me many times).It isn't a problem often, until we make it a problem.I wish you much joy and peace of mind on this journey!Thank you for posing such a thought-provoking question. Let me know if any of what I've shared in response proves helpful!?

  10. Jennifer Armstrong

    Heila, I'll take that one!As I'm sure you know, there's a big difference between being able to read something (decoding) and being ready for the concepts and situations in the text.You already know the books, and you know your daughter.If you think she's the sort of kid who would want to run straight through all the books in order, then you'll probably want to trust your instincts here and put it off until she's more mature. There are so many good books that are appropriate for 9 year olds – why rush into something that she might enjoy better at 11 or 12? Lots of younger kids who are skillful readers yearn to read big thick books, but they need some guidance to find books that are not too grown-up for them.The children's librarian at your public library will be able to direct you to books that meet her at her maturity level, or you can find plenty of book lists on the website of the American Library Association or the International Reading Association – I don't know what children's books are published in South Africa, but I'm guessing plenty of American and English books are available.

    We're very glad you're enjoying the blog, and we appreciate you recommending to your friends.

  11. Heila

    Hi Lisa,

    Thanks so much for your kind and considered reply.It is indeed true that we project our own fears onto our children, and my 9 year old is becoming astute enough to question parenting decisions when she senses that we don't have particularly good reasons for them!This morning on the way to school I asked her what she thinks courage is and we came up with some examples.I was impressed with some of the things she thought of.The summer holidays start here in South Africa at the end of this week and I want to continue this conversation with her, definitely finding inspiration from books as well.

    Talking about books, my husband and I are great Harry Potter fans and I think my daughter would quite enjoy the first 3 books at this stage.I'm worried that she isn't ready to read the rest yet… what are your thoughts on the appropriate age for Harry Potter?I realise that chronological, intellectual and emotional age do not always match up, so just approximately.

    Thanks for this blog, I'm reading it bit by bit and have recommended it to friends with kids as well.


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