In Why Courage Matters: The Way to a Braver Life we have a small, accessible book for adult readers (or teen readers, of course) by Senator John McCain with Mark Salter. McCain has been rightly honored for the courage he demonstrated as a POW, and regardless of your political opinions of his public service in the U.S. Congress, his is a voice of experience on this issue. He brings to this exploration of courage a not suprising inclination to praise military heroism, but there’s much more than that. One thing that I like about this book is that he does discuss courage as something for parents to heed, and to strive to develop in their children. He offers many examples from history of tremendous courage, from soldiers on the front lines to civil rights activists using nonviolent disobedience to further their cause. I have three takeaways from the book:
1. Courage must be voluntary. We must make a choice to overcome the challenge before us, and move through and beyond the fear that faces us. Even when we are faced with a challenge we can’t escape, such as an illness, the choice of how we face it is ours to make.
2. Courage is contagious. When we have the example of a courageous person before us, it inspires us to greater courage ourselves. (His description of how POWs encouraged and inspired each other to continue resistance is very moving.) Offer your kids models of courage from traditional tales and true stories. They can strive to deserve the courage of those heroes who went before them.
3. The people whom McCain portrays as examples of courage have only one thing in common: fear. As we have said all along, courage is not the absence of fear, it is going forward despite fear.
In summing up, McCain corroborates what we have said on Lion’s Whiskers many times. When you give your kids opportunities to practice courage, whether with courage challenges, courage workouts, or by setting an example that your kids can see every day, you help them build their courage for the challenges on the path ahead.
“If you do the things you think you cannot do, you’ll feel your resistance, your hope, your dignity and your courage grow stronger every time you prove it. You will some day face harder choices that very well might require more courage. You’re getting ready for them. You’re getting ready to have courage.”