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Living Courageously: Here's How

Without courage our lives become narrow, our hearts small.

Here's my short list of "categories" of courage to which we might aspire:

There is courage in taking action. We take on a new challenge we prefer to avoid. We get on a plane, apply for a job, buy a bicycle, study for the G.E.D., put aside time in the morning to write, take a Spanish class.

There is courage in speaking. We voice our differences, we share real feelings, we address a painful emotional issue, open a family secret, tell the truth. We take a clear position on things that matter to us. We clarify the limits of what we can or can't do. We speak not with the intention of getting comfortable but with the intention of being our best self, even though we may be shaking in our boots.

There is courage in questioning. We ask questions about anxious emotional issues in our family's history. We ask our partner questions that will allow us to know him or her more fully. When people we love have suffered, we invite them to tell us their stories, no matter how painful, rather than communicating that we don't want to hear it, or don't want to hear all of it. We ask, "Is there more you'd like to share?"

There is courage in pure listening. We practice listening with an open heart, and with the intention only to understand. We listen without defensiveness, and without the need to fix, instruct, or change the other person. We mindfully choose silence over speech, and resist saying the wrong thing at the tempting moment.

There is courage in thinking for ourselves. We clarify our own beliefs separate from what our family, friends, partner, therapist, workplace or president tell us is right and true. We resist the pressure for a "group think" mentality even when we stand all alone with our perceptions, opinions and beliefs.

There is courage in being accountable. We truly accept responsibility for our own less-than-honorable behaviors, even when doing so challenges our favored image of the self.

Other ideas or images of courage may occur to you:

The courage to love and to create.

The courage to know another person and be known.

The courage to see yourself clearly.

The courage to bring more of your authentic self into a relationship.

The courage to be generous and patient.

The courage to have an open mind.

The courage to have an open heart.

The courage to live your own life (not someone else's) as well as possible.

The courage to honor a commitment.

The courage to endure when something terrible happens to you or a family member.

The courage of heroism in the usual sense, that is the willingness to sacrifice everything because you believe so strongly in something.

The courage to get through the day.

I invite you to consider how you define courage in your own life and how you might practice more of it. Most everything in this world that is truly worth doing takes practice, and courage is no exception.

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