I was recently asked by a friend to share a few of my thoughts on ‘courage’ and how it operates as a presence in my life. Truth be told, for me ‘courage’ is an intangible essence that defies definition. I believe it is ever-present and available to us all, yet is only breathed to life when we choose a path forward, one which is not absent of fear, but is in some way governed by faith – A belief that even the most unbearable can be endured when we accept that within every experience, and encapsulated in every moment, is a lesson that reveals something greater lies beyond the scope of each of us.
In no way am I suggesting this broader essence is of the religious or spiritual realm, but simply a faith that there is a current of interconnectedness that runs in and through us all – or in the words of John Muir, "When we try to pick out anything by itself, we find it hitched to everything else in the Universe." And what is ‘courage’ other than the faith to move forward in the midst of fear? As we dig deeper and deeper into the genesis of all our fears, we discover that invariably our fear is driven by our belief that we are alone, disenfranchised, or set adrift in an achingly reverberant hollowness.
As a motivational speaker, I attempt to connect with my audience by returning to places of adversity in my past as touchstones, or catalysts for personal growth. I have come to see the ‘scars’ of my life – borne of trauma and great discomfort – not as blemishes to be hidden away, but rather as evidence of a personal roadmap of how far I’ve traveled in my life. What others often define as ‘courage’ in me, I see as nothing more than a belief that my ‘scars’ do not define me… but rather, they reveal me.
So again, I return to the essence of what it means to be courageous – a deeply rooted faith in our human interconnectedness. I find such comfort in the words of Viktor Frankl: “A man who becomes conscious of the responsibility he bears toward a human being who affectionately waits for him, or to an unfinished work, will never be able to throw away his life. He knows the ‘why’ for his existence, and will be able to bear almost any ‘how’.”
Where many of us get lost is in the act of comparing our suffering to that of others, and in the process, we diminish the impact, or resonance it has in our life. And in negating the presence of this suffering, we thereby deny any opportunity to embrace this discomfort as a lesson or opportunity for personal growth.
Our muscles respond to stress by becoming at first strained and later stronger, so too do we build up our tolerance for withstanding adversity by allowing it space in our life. Courage rises to the fore when we adopt a new mindset, a new lens from which we approach our life. I was listening to an interview with John O’Leary, someone who despite a devastating fire that burned 100% of his body, has become a tremendous source of inspiration and hope to many. Given the obstacles that John has had to face in life, he has chosen to embrace a ‘victor’ rather than ‘victim’ mindset. He points out that ‘victims’ tend to ask the same questions: Why me? Why now? Why bother? What can one person possibly do to change this situation?
Yet, O’Leary reminds us if we take those same questions and approach them from a positive mindset – one in which we see adversity as a lesson or an opportunity for growth, we begin to align ourselves with belief in our role in a greater connectedness with our community. “Why me?” becomes what makes me special to carry a message of hope and resiliency? “Why now?” reminds us of the importance of living in the moment. “Why bother… What can one person possibly do to change this situation?” provides, in my opinion the greatest possibility for us all to unearth the courage that lies within. It is a conscious choice to walk towards the bridge that connects us to everyone in our community, and in so doing we step away from the fear of isolation and into a wellspring of hope.