Courage

Courage is what it takes to stand up and speak; courage is also what it takes to sit down and listen.
— Winston Churchill

This last week, I have been thinking about Courage. For clarity, I am not referring to the beer founded in 1757! Courage is a rather strange thing. You never know whether you have it until you have little choice but to display it. You cannot easily practise it or cultivate it and yet we often think of it as a virtue. Something to be greatly admired. It’s the subject of many school assemblies – particularly at this time of year when exams loom and children and young people need to be reminded that there is more to life than getting an A*.

It makes for great stories and heroic feats. People who achieve more than they ever could have imagined are considered courageous. They tell wonderful stories, yet often, to most of us, might be a little removed. For an executive I am currently coaching, courage is to show up and be herself at work rather than who she thinks she is expected to be.

For most of us, especially our children, courage is found in the small steps of life. In things that are neither glamorous nor greatly admired. Instead, courage is facing another day when life seems to be just too difficult. It’s making conversation when shyness means you would rather not. It is getting back up on your feet, as I had to do after an episode of stage fright a few years ago made me unable to speak in public for nearly nine months. It is standing up for justice when it is so much easier to look the other way. Courage is to keep going after the project you are responsible for has just gone horribly wrong. So, how do you teach courage when you are not able to test for it? Even if you could, what might be courageous for me might be easy for you. Courage can only be grown in the seeds of real-life experiences.

Courage comes in the form of Paula who shared her story in a mediation session last week. She described how in the last few years she has had to endure a series of tough events. This included witnessing her nephew being tragically killed in a car accident in Greece.  She also lost her brother to a neurological condition, as well as suddenly losing her mother, both in the same year. Paula herself is now two years free from cancer.  For Paula, courage is turning up to work every morning.

In addition to Paula, I see courage in many other people who are beset by conflict situations but have the courage to turn up and face their nemesis for a conversation to try and sort things out. The easy option can be to avoid them, move desks, leave or take some time away. Just last Thursday, during a telephone conversation, a nurse described how a Consultant made her feel anxious and unable to do her job. His bullying has prevented her from getting a decent night of sleep for the last 11 months. 

Courage is often nothing more and nothing less than facing another day.