So many of us want to have more courage.
But, maybe we don’t need more courage! That’s probably not the answer you were expecting, but I think that our search for courage has an unintended consequence, which is that it validates our fears.
What if instead of trying to muster up our courage, brace ourselves and be strong, we enter a state of non-resistance? What if we accept whatever is going on, and respond by conducting ourselves in the best way we know how? If we are calm and present, fully acknowledging what’s happening, do we need courage?
To be clear, I’m not talking about how we respond to life threatening situations. When we’re in a truly life-threatening situation, like the brave passengers on Flight 93 on 9/11—the one that crashed in rural Pennsylvania—we need courage to overcome our fears and take bold actions. Fear is an appropriate response when our survival is threatened.
However, if our survival is not at stake, but rather it’s our identity or our emotional comfort that’s at stake, courage is not what’s required. Because when we seek courage, we stimulate and validate our fears. They are two sides of the same coin—fear and courage—a duality. If we make one side bigger, we make the other side bigger. The more we fear, the more courage we need. The more courage we muster, the more fear we imagine.
I’m challenging our assumptions about the need to be courageous, suggesting it’s not necessary except when we’re in physical danger. Courage was appropriate when we feared being attacked by tigers. But it’s not appropriate to deal with modern day anxieties. If we seek courage, we will turn our anxiety into fear, even though there is nothing to fear.
If instead of seeking courage, we realize that there is nothing to fear, we can create a state of equanimity which allows us to access our greatest resources: presence and wisdom.
As I have aged, I have become less anxious. I have come to understand and accept that certain things are part of life. Some of these I can influence, in which case I do so, some I can’t influence, in which case I do my best to be accepting.
I am not without anxiety, but I know that when I make myself anxious, courage isn’t the best solution. As soon as I attempt to muster courage, I can feel myself entering a heightened state of physical and emotional stimulation—adrenaline releasing into my system. I enter a warrior state, a state that is required to conquer my fears. And this state feeds off of fear. Fear is the sustenance that keeps courage alive.
When you next find yourself thinking you need courage, I encourage you to stop and ask, “Is that really what I need?” Ask yourself if you will be better off mustering up your courage, or being present and accessing your wisdom so that you can find the most appropriate ways to respond to whatever is happening.
I wonder what you think of Brene Brown’s definition of courage, to be vulnerable? http://www.courageworks.com/about/brene-brown
Annette——thanks for asking,
In general I appreciate Brene Brown’s work and I like this quote of hers, “Vulnerability – the willingness to show up and be seen with no guarantee of outcome – is our greatest measure of courage.” I agree that being vulnerable is extremely valuable and powerful, but I don’t agree that it is a measure of courage, based on how most of use that word. I believe I can be vulnerable without being courageous. As soon as you suggest that people need to be courageous you are sort of implying that whatever they need to do will be difficult or scary.
Courage originally meant, “to tell the story of who you are with your whole heart.” That’s a great definition, but it’s not generally how we use the word today. We use it to suggest that we need to brace ourselves because the task ahead is hard. That’s why I am cautious about using the word “courage.”
Brene also places a lot of emphasis on shame. I don’t agree with this either. I think that shame is actually very rare, but today the word is used often and inaccurately.
Again . . . I think her work is valuable. And I have a different take on these words——courage and shame——which I think are often misused in ways that hinder people.
I hope this helps,