When I first read about the topic for this month’s synchroblog I was excited. I could think of several examples of ordinary courage as it was described in our invitation to write, “Ordinary courage is about putting our vulnerability on the line…If we pay attention we see ordinary courage every day—in children, co-workers, students, parents, friends, family members, strangers, and even in ourselves. ”
I can relay multiple examples of courage from my own circle of friends and family. I know a woman, for example, for whom waking up each morning is an act of courage. She was severely burned as a child and for at least the past ten years (as long as I’ve known her) has been in constant pain. Some days her pain is so excruciating that she cannot bear the weight of a thin cotton T-shirt so sits naked in her trailer house. Yet every morning she wakes and spends much of her day in prayer for others. The children in the group home where I work are other examples of courage. Ranging in age from 5 to 12 each has faced years of severe neglect and abuse at the hands of the adults who were supposed to love and take care of them. In our home they are safe, sometimes for the first time in their lives. Somehow they must learn to trust adults again as they wrestle with their feelings toward those who have harmed them. For them each day requires new courage.
The more I think about this topic the more I realize my recent blogs about my daughter’s graduation and my son’s journey to self-acceptance and acceptance by others are stories about their journeys in courage. Whenever we stand our ground for the persons we are against what seems like unwarranted opposition, like my daughter’s fight within a skewed education system and my son’s struggle to be treated equally to straight men, we must muster a certain kind of internal courage.
Some might argue that my examples are not ordinary but rather extraordinary. Each person had or has a very real obstacle to overcome. But does not all courage begin with an obstacle? Some of the obstacles we face are in our minds and some are physical forces against us but overcoming is the nature of courage. Granted, we can trivialize the idea to the point of the ridiculous by suggesting that even a baby taking his or her first step is an act of courage—overcoming the obstacle of gravity or some such non-sense. Yet, to the toddler that event is not ridiculous or easily accomplished. What I am actually saying here is that courage is learned.
Courage and fear (which in my opinion is the opposite of courage) partner with our natural drive to explore the world around us, our innate curiosity. As parents, whether we recognize the fact or not, we teach our children to face the world before them fearfully or courageously. If we focus on the hardships, continuously point our children toward the path of least resistance, gush over their minor accomplishments or contrastingly only point out their mistakes we set them up to be ill equipped for the journey and fearful of the world they must navigate. On the other hand, by helping our children adequately assess the difficulties they face, acquire the skill sets they need to accomplish a given task, honestly evaluate their accomplishments, and learn from their mishaps or failures as well as their successes we provide them with the tools they need to face their world courageously, confident that whatever comes will be both an opportunity to learn more about themselves and a grand adventure.
When my oldest son was five our family lived in one of the university family housing units where my husband was getting his MFA. The playground was right outside my kitchen window so I often let my children play outside while I finished up the dishes. One morning I heard my oldest call, “Hey Mama, look at me.” I couldn’t see him through the window so I went out the door and took a couple steps toward the playground thinking he must be on the monkey bars. He called again only this time he sounded like he was behind me. I turned around ready to scold him for going up on the balcony floors above our apartment only to discover he had climbed twenty plus feet up in a pine tree next to the building. In that moment I learned that I could not be a fear-filled parent. If I was I would make my son’s life miserable. So instead of scolding him or showing him how nervous I actually was I simply asked if he could show me how he got up there so very high. His heart sang as he instructed me on his way down, “Well I did this and then I did this and I did this, only the other way around, and I did this and…” He was grinning from ear to ear when he reached the bottom and was ready to go play with his brother in the sandbox. Ordinary courage–neither one of us would have called it that in the moment but it is what navigating that moment took from and gave to both of us as we each chose to set fear aside.
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For more on this topic check out these other Synchroblog posts:
This Is Courage by Jen Bradbury
Being Vulnerable by Phil Lancaster
Moving Forward Takes Courage by Paul W. Meier
How to Become a Flasher by Glenn Hager
Ordinary Courage by Elaine Hansen
Courage, Hope, Generosity by Carol Kuniholm
The Courage to Fail by Wendy McCaig
The Greatest Act of Courage by Jeremy Myers
Sharing One’s Heart by K. W. Leslie
All I See Is Rocks by Tim Nichols
I Wonder What Would Happen by Liz Dyer
What is Ordinary Courage? by Jennifer Stahl
Loving Courageously by Doreen A. Mannion
Heart Cry: The Courage to Confess by Elizabeth Chapin
The Act to the Miraculous by VisionHub
the spiritual practice of showing up & telling the truth by Kathy Escobar