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Showing posts with label courage defined. Show all posts
Showing posts with label courage defined. Show all posts

Thursday, May 10, 2012

The Prototype of Courage

Here's another reason why sharing stories that illustrate all six types of courage with your kids may be a very constructive project.  As children develop and acquire language, they are actively engaged in concept formation (which of course began in infancy).  What is "dog" or "chair" or "jumping" or "soft"?  These are all concepts that are learned through exposure to a wide variety of examples.  Each exposure helps the child refine the prototype, the essence or ideal, if you will, of "dog" "chair" "jumping" and "soft" based on what is common among all the examples of the concept.  

It works like this:  If a child has experience of many different sorts of dogs, her prototype of the concept "dog" may end up as something of medium stature, with an affectionate nature and an appetite for long walks - something like a Labrador retriever (not surprisingly one of the most popular of breeds.)   Generic or stylized signs for dogs generally show an animal of medium stature and average proportions, rather than a wasp-waisted whippet or a low-slung Basset hound.  If the child sees primarily Chihuahuas and Yorkshire terriers, her prototype might be something decidedly smaller, more nervous, and more inclined to sit on laps than your average Labrador.   (I am reminded of an anecdote I heard recently about a young boy whose mother was a lawyer with many women attorneys in her social set; the son disdained the idea of practicing law as a career since it was something "only girls do.")

If children form a prototype of the concept "courage" based on a narrow range of examples (e.g. only police officers or soldiers or firefighters) might they find it harder to recognize other types of courage in themselves or others? I can't find any academic studies supporting this, but it would certainly be an interesting investigation.

As I wrote earlier in a post on more evidence on the power of stories, researchers find more sophisticated "theory of mind" in children who listen to or read a lot of stories.  Theory of mind is the ability to imagine what might be going on in another person's head.   Some researchers contend that theory of mind may be critical to forming certain concepts.  For an abstract concept such as "courage" it may be necessary for a child to imagine the mental states of different people undergoing challenges.   In other words, theory of mind may allow a child to infer that a given situation is frightening or difficult for another person, and thus allow additional material for forming the prototype of "courage."

A recent article in Psychology Today also proposes that imagining other people's choices clarifies our own.  When faced with a choice we have never had to make before, we summon our mental prototype of a person who would made that choice.  If that prototype is something we aspire to (i.e. courageous action), we may make the choice in a way that matches the prototype.  Much as many Evangelical Christians use the motto, "What would Jesus do?"to guide their decisions, we prompt ourselves to conform to a standard that we wish to match.  If we have allowed ourselves and our children to form a prototype that encompasses all six types of courage, can we hope that we will be better able to rise to the challenge when it meets us on the path, in whatever form it takes?  If courage resides in the hearts of such diverse heroes as Horatio, Br'er Rabbit, and Lady Godiva, the prototype of courage our children take with them through their lives may be as nuanced as our complex world requires.

Sunday, September 25, 2011

Courage is Not the Absence of Fear

Courage is not the absence of fear, but rather the judgment that something else is more important than fear. ~ Ambrose Redmoon

As parents, we are often faced with the decision to put the welfare of our children above that of our own.  Being a courageous parent can range from rescuing your child from near death or other peril, to fighting for your child’s right to feel safe at school and not bullied, to telling the truth about your decision to separate, to holding your child’s hand at their hospital bedside, to canceling that belated wedding anniversary vacation (the first one in 10 years) due to your child’s unexpected flu bug, to waking each morning early to ensure that you keep your job and your child has shelter, food, and the many other necessities modern life now seems to require.  Any number of opportunities present themselves everyday to us as parents to muster and model the six types of courage.  Sometimes we even fail to recognize what courage it takes to be a parent.  It takes courage to walk through the fears about our own eclipsed needs after deciding to have a child.  To accept the risks associated with loving another human being so fully and completely that they one day walk out our front door with the keys to their own castle in hand (God willing). Courage is telling the truth about who we are, apologizing when we mess up, and loving ourselves and our child in the process. 


As a child and family therapist, I frequently witness the courage and compassion parents have in advocating for their mentally ill child, their child who struggles in school because of a learning disorder, their obese child facing long-term health issues if they don’t lose some weight, or their child banished to the outskirts of social acceptance due to the arbitrary judgment of an individual or group with more social cache.  I see the heartbreak on these parents’ faces when their child is called fat, gay, stupid, or weird.  Then, I witness the tears brushed away and the smile return to greet their child’s gaze with unconditional love.  The child, in turn, is looking for that acceptance as fuel for their own courage to face the battles they must.  Sometimes as parents we feel powerless about what to do to help our child through a tough time.  But it is the decision to keep moving forward, digging together for solutions in the dark, that inspires our children to have faith in the kindness of others, hope for their future, and to develop the necessary courage associated with resilience. 

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Defining Courage for Yourself



A few days after Jennifer and I start talking about writing about courage, her daughter (K.) and my own (B.) are seated at our kitchen table sharing snacks and huddled together over my daughter’s new iPod. I ask them, “Do you mind if I ask you a couple questions about courage?”  We’ve had a few discussions about what courage means since I started researching its origins for this blog. I find I get more thoughtful, and willing, answers to my questions when I check in with my kids if it is a good time for them…and if they understand the meaning of my questions.  I ask Jennifer’s daughter, the lovely K., first. “Do you think B. has courage?”  K. answers emphatically, “Yes!”

Monday, February 7, 2011

Getting to the Heart of Courage

The Merriam Webster (2010) dictionary defines courage as follows:  “mental or moral strength to venture, persevere, and withstand danger, fear, or difficulty” (http://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/courage, ¶1).  It comes from the Middle English corage, from Anglo-French curage, from quer, coer, and from the Latin word cor (¶3). All essentially variations of the origin, ‘heart’: to have heart, to take heart, to be brave of heart.

Since my kids are some of the wisest people I know, and I’m curious what they may have already learned about courage in their lives, I ask them to define courage in their own words.  My teenage son tolerates the interrogation, even taking a moment from his iPod to answer “Courage is: even when the odds are against you, you are able to overcome them to do something brave.  It’s not just trying to overcome.  It is doing something great.  Like in World War II, the American soldiers crashing onto the beaches in the Pacific—against all odds—fighting with all they had…that’s courage”.  We’d just finished a marathon session watching the HBO miniseries The Pacific, so this kind of courage-in-action is fresh in his mind.  My 10-year old daughter on the other hand, mulls over my question—her mind wandering the clouds overhead outside the backseat car window—whilst I wait patiently for her response.  “Courage is being brave even when you are afraid.  It is standing up for what you believe in or for someone you believe in.  Even if you know others maybe won’t like it.”