We are all brave in some ways and not in others.
There are an infinite number of ways a person can act with courage, or fail to, on a particular day. What constitutes courage is rarely the heroic deeds that action and adventure films are made of.
Don’t assume that your best friend who is preparing to climb Mount Kilamanjaro lives more courageously than your neighbor who spends every vacation puttering around her house and garden.
The person who stays close to home may, indeed, be living a small, fear-driven life. Alternatively, her relationship to home and place may be marvelously complex and filled with experiments in the kitchen, workshop and garden that require an adventurous spirit. Maybe she takes courageous political stands or takes risks in her personal relationships that are hard for her, that make her afraid, and she does them anyway.
And maybe your adventurous, risk-taking friend is totally unable to find her voice to talk with her parents about things that trouble her, ask for help when she needs it, or engage openly in questioning, criticism and dissent on issues that matter to her.
Private, invisible acts of courage are not apparent to others. And what constitutes a courageous act will not be the same for two people, or even for the same person on a different day.
In one circumstance, courage might mean giving vent to the full measure of your anger. In a different situation, you may need to muster every molecule of courage to open a difficult conversation in a kind and temperate way when you want to come out with guns blazing.
We can’t evaluate courage from the outside because courage comes from the inside. For example, I recently conducted an evening program on anger at a women’s prison, and some sensitive issues between the prisoners and the prison staff came out in the open. When I described the experience to a friend, she exclaimed, “Harriet, you are so brave!” In fact, I was feeling extremely brave that night and rightfully proud, if I do say so myself.
My courageous act was driving myself to the facility after dark, even though I had never been there before and could have gotten someone else to take me. The program I conducted on women’s anger, by contrast, didn’t evoke any particular anxiety or require me to push against resistance. Finding my way to an unfamiliar place at night, when decades of avoidance had led to near-paralysis at the mere thought of doing so, was truly brave for me.
Courage requires a lot from you. First, you need to clarify your authentic goals, values, beliefs and directions. Perhaps your intuition tells you to sign up for a dance class, or to initiate more contact with your brother, or re-visit a painful issue with your mother.
Perhaps your intention is to create a better relationship. It's hard to initiate a change and then to stay on course--even when you meet with the inevitable resistance from within and without.
The Dance of Anger is a guide to courageous acts of change in our stuck relationships, and courage is key. Nothing is more difficult than getting off automatic pilot to change our own self in a stuck relationship. Give me a mountain to climb, any day! (Well, not really, but perhaps a steep hill).