Without courage, we cannot practice any other virtue with consistency. We can’t be kind, true, merciful, generous, or honest.” ―Maya Angelou
America is the home of the brave according to last lines of The Star-Spangled Banner. We need to continue that tradition. Often when we talk about courage, we mean physical valor particularly on the battlefield. That’s only one type of bravery.
Psychological, social, and moral bravery are necessities if we are to live the good life. Psychological bravery is about facing our anxieties and insecurities and moving on to achieve our valued goals. Social bravery is about not allowing our fear of what others think about us determine our behaviors. Moral bravery is about standing up for what’s right despite what others are doing.
Lately I’ve noticed many examples of bravery. One of my close family members decided to become vulnerable, to talk openly, and to face up to her anger, depression, and anxiety. She saw a psychiatrist and is continuing with extensive outpatient treatment. Admitting to herself that she needed help - not allowing her own fears of being labelled mentally ill to deter her, was psychologically brave.
We aren’t born brave. We learn it. One of my super courageous friends, Juli, told me recently that she started out as a coward. Juli was a teen in the South when schools were integrated. Two small African American children had to ride her bus which was filled with high schoolers. The teens taunted and made fun of the kids. Juli was afraid if she spoke up she would lose her social standing among her friends. She knew what the teens were doing was wrong and cruel, but for a full year, she did nothing.
Remembering and hating that act of cowardice propelled Juli forward to her current life of pastoring, working with immigrants, and advocating for social justice causes. She speaks her truth and takes stands that her friends don’t always agree with, but she does what she feels is the right thing to do. That’s an example of both social and moral courage.
Bravery is the ability to do what needs to be done despite fear. Brave people are willing to be vulnerable to rejection – to emotional and physical pain.
You’d think we would know a lot about how to do that, but researchers say we do not. It does seem to help that we share these stories of bravery and recognize those who are brave. Role-models and heroic stories are commonly used in all cultures to promote bravery.
Though I was in the Army, and was subject to a few scary situations, I consider myself more of a weenie than a brave person. There were things, however, that did seem to help me to be braver. Role models and stories did help. Simulating dangerous situations and knowing what to do before encountering the real thing also helped me. Knowing that I could function despite fear was useful.
But what I noticed that worked very well for me and many others was en-couraging messages. Indeed, researchers suggest that certain types of en-couraging messages and messengers could help others be braver.
First of all messages that are framed in terms of progress are en-couraging. “You have already done the 70 percent of the work.” Rather than, “You still have thirty percent more to do.”
Messages that seem realistic are more en-couraging. ‘If you practice every day, you’ll be perfect” sounds unrealistic and does not promote courage. However, the message of “If you practice every day, you’ll make progress” sounds reasonable, doable, and musters courage.
Lastly, the messenger matters when it comes to en-couragement. You need credibility to be a successful en-courager.
This story is not mine, but my husband’s. John left Leavenworth to attend college at Pomona in Southern California. He was pretty much failing his classes. Then the dean called him in for a little meeting. “Mr. Darling, when we admitted you to Pomona, we felt you had the potential to succeed here,” he said. “Now we ask if we might have a little of your time.” Those few words en-couraged John and catapulted him out of despair into attending class, taking notes, and eventually into straight A’s. But you don’t have to be a professor to be credible. Parents and those who know us well, we also accept as credible messengers and capable en-couragers.
If you, like me, want to bolster your courage then consider sharing and celebrating brave stories with others. Find a good movie like “Best of Enemies” which shows many forms of bravery to show and discuss with your family. And lastly, consider how you might help others be braver by crafting encouraging messages.
How might you Journey to The Good Life by being braver?