In the process of writing this post I re-read the definition of courage. What caught my eye was the end of the definition – ‘perseverance and patience.’ The other parts of the definition, “…the choice and willingness to confront…” and “physical courage” were more self-evident to me. As I reflected on perseverance and patience, I began to realize that behind many acts of courage that we witness, there was perseverance and patience. Maybe not in that moment, but in their development. I learned recently that firefighters don’t have the word courage as part of their vocabulary. They believe that their training prepares them for what they will face so that in the moment they ‘do their job’ by following what they are prepared to do. I believe that perseverance and patience help us to build our capacity for courage.
Amidst all that we have and are dealing with related to COVID-19, I have been most encouraged by the acts of daily heroism (courage) by ordinary people. These acts (first responders, doctors, nurses, caregivers, teachers, neighbors) demonstrate a common theme – someone has a need and I will help them. These acts, large (I will risk my life for you) to small (I will make sure that my elderly neighbor is alright) recognize the needs of others, often first. Maybe, some of these acts are more a function of caring than courage, but I’m not sure that distinction is important in this context. What is important is that they acted for another’s need, not their own.
Often the big acts of courage make their way onto social media and television. Those successes are inspiring. There are many, many more that are known by only a few people – the mother of three young children wondering where the energy sufficient for the day will come from; who constantly questions if she is a good mother. The elderly man, living alone dealing with a body full of pain from arthritis. Millions of people out of work wondering when, if, they will go back to work. Those people fighting the effects of disease, wondering if they will survive. Perseverance and patience.
Many years ago, I had a colleague who was passionate about her viewpoint. She was often right. As I observed the impact of her arguments on her colleagues, however, I realized that she was alienating them. One day I asked her, “Would you rather be right or effective?” She was stunned by the question because in that moment she realized what she was doing. She understood that what was more important than any one argument was her relationship with her teammates. I watched her over the days and weeks ahead as she shifted away from her need to always be right.
Since that time I have learned of a third component to ‘right’ and ‘effective’, and that is ‘faithful’ (as in being faithful to ______ (my core values, the mission and values of the organization, etc.). Do I have the ‘courage’ as a leader to be faithful even though I may not be right or effective? I tell this story, because sometimes the greatest courage we demonstrate is the willingness to change our behavior to achieve more of what we want, and the greater need. It feels good to be right. It feels good to be effective. It feels difficult to be faithful.
It seems paradoxical that during the largest pandemic in my lifetime, there is a ray of hope that gives me encouragement about our future. While it is disappointing that more hope isn’t directed toward our national leadership (and we do have people at the national level who demonstrate courage) I am encouraged by what I see from ordinary people, left to their own value system ‘rising up’ in the moment demonstrating compassion and caring in extraordinary ways. Is that because we are all under the same threat? Maybe. Will this behavior continue when the threat has subsided? With some people, yes. I would like to think that we would move forward with a larger identification with “we are all in this together” and have it be not just about our country; to recognize once more that we have a key role to play in the world community. Question: Do we become increasingly self-centered as our ideology moves further right or left?
The thing I am recognizing about courage is that when we witness it, it gives us energy, it can give us hope, it can encourage the courage within us. There are many points in our life where perseverance and patience are required. These are our moments of courage. Sometimes, the courage just to make it through today, then tomorrow, and then the next. These are not the things that we will see on social media, or make their way to the newspaper or TV, but they are the moments of our lives that help define the next moments of our lives. Sometimes that courage (perseverance and patience) is the linchpin that gets us to the next moment and creates a ray of hope that gives us a little more energy to face what we must face. My guess is that many more moments of our courage are known only to us, or a few close family members or friends. They also are moments, if we can ‘see’, we can be our own hero…perhaps the most important by-product of courage.