Courage is a word that has popped up in several conversations this week. It’s a slippery concept actually. Movies, books, hero narratives embed in us a certain idea of courage which I suspect is really closer to heroism. The grand gesture, the ultimate sacrifice, the tilting at noble windmills, all these feel courageous. Then we have the socially romantic notions around the quiet courage of the working mother or the father working two jobs, the family managing in the face of a life threatening disease, or the immigrant sending money home to her parents.
And these are all true, as far as it goes, but for many of us they aren’t a flavour of courage that we can relate to. What we actually need is a smaller word. A word that isn’t courage or heroism or sacrifice but instead describes the small acts we take that move us more closely to what and who we want to be and away from what we are ‘supposed to be’. It would encompass little acts of quiet rebellion against the homogenisation of our culture or more substantial moments of truth in which we say the unpopular thing because it’s the correct position to take even in the face of relentless opposition. It’s when we allow ourselves to feel adrift, unmoored or confused when we’d prefer to feel safe and comfortable and familiar. Courage isn’t necessarily a big action; Like so many other things it might be the aggregation of a bunch of small steps each one slightly more terrifying than the last that ultimately taking us to a completely different headspace.
I’ll tell you one thing, if you’re going to go for that big ass courage word, you need to start with those small steps. It’s a muscle like any other that requires practice practice practice. And maybe you won’t be able to look back on the story line of your life and say, “I was a courageous person”… because it is big and hard and scary and we can’t all get there. But I know for sure it won’t happen unless we take the first step.
“The secret to happiness is freedom… and the secret to freedom is courage.” ~ Thucydides