The Virtue of Courage
In the last few weeks I have spend a lot of time with children teaching them about courage using the medium of rock climbing as the tool for its development. Even though I have done this for 10 years now, it never ceases to amaze me how fast a child can go from being in a state of fear to a state of courage. When the 5 year olds come to the wall, it must seem like they are about to take on Everest. They take the first few steps hesitatingly. Then something clicks inside of them after just about 10 minutes. What they thought was so frightening isn’t so daunting after all. In another couple of lessons they are flying around the wall as if they were walking on the ground. Of course, everything is in degrees. Some children move much more slowly through the fear.
I can say that there is hardly a greater moment of joy for a teacher than to see a child gradually work through a daunting fear in climbing and then get to a goal that seemed so impossible. How does it happen? I wish I knew more about the process. The one thing I have learned about fear and accompaniment that is phenomenal is that the closer I am physically to a child going through a fearful situation, the more likely they are to achieve the goal. When I am close to them, it is as if they believe that despite the fear, nothing is going to happen.
Fear is just so real. The first time I ever did bungy jumping there was so much fear pulsating through my body that I couldn’t even experience one moment of joy. The only way I jumped is by telling myself that no one else has died yet. It worked.
Fear and Courage go together always. When you are developing the virtue of courage, it means that you are learning to let go of fear. Fear keeps you from doing the intended goal. Courage allows it. Fear presents to you all of the ways that something is going to go wrong. It puts the negative in your face and often makes it bigger than life. This protects you from any harm whatsoever because when you see the bear in the forest coming into your campground at night, you decide not to go camping. When you see people laughing and criticizing you for what you are saying in public, you hold yourself back from speaking in front of large groups.
Courage happens when you let go of the fearful image and replace it with a positive one. Instead of seeing the bear in the campground disturbing everything and tearing everyone to shreds, you see the people eating around a campfire and enjoying nature and long hikes. You see the positive results of what you are saying on the faces in the audience.
Courage is simply having a positive image of the desired goal state in a big way and then jumping in. It doesn’t mean that by courage alone you are going to be successful, but it does allow you to be jump and be in the experience and then keep going back to it. People who are courageous just love the thrill of jumping in so much that they easily let go of any hurts that they have had in the past.
How to do you let go of fear? Usually people who hang onto fear place a big value judgment on mistakes. And that value judgment is reinforced a 1000 times by people in positions of authority saying negative things about an action. It is hard to contradict a parent who tells a child that they are lazy or stupid or have embarrassed the whole family. Letting go often requires that you let go of the value judgment connected to the action. When you let go of the shame or embarrassment that you have caused by not performing well, then the fear itself is easy to change, but who is ashamed by your actions can cause you to stay in a fearful state for your entire life.
Children can often get other children to stop doing courageous acts by laughing at another child publicly or making fun of what they did. This is the same as an authority figure because children often value their peers as authorities. Instead of laughing at a mistake and going forward with courage, children can often go right into a shell so fearful now that their peers are going to laugh at them again.
People who are good at courage take the authority from their own inner selves rather than outside of themselves. Mistakes are fun to them because they live inside the goal setting not thinking about other people’s reaction.
Some good questions.
What is my desired goal? Make a brilliant picture in front of you larger than life.
What is the fear keeping me from going for the goal?
Whose reaction am I am most concerned about?