On social media, a friend of mine wrote a long post about courage. She was referencing the political strife that’s going on in the US and how we need a show of courage from certain politicians (I’m not going to reiterate her whole post here), but it got me thinking about courage.
She also posed a more interesting question: How often are we courageous in our own lives?
The TV and movies like to tell us that courage is dodging bullets and explosions, but today, risking death to feel courageous is just stupidity. We’re no longer hunters and gatherers that need to risk our lives to feed the tribe.
Real courage is emotional vulnerability. It’s being open and honest during the hard conversations and not shutting down as soon as things get tense. Shutting down can mean running away, but it can also mean putting up your defenses and reinforcing the walls in your own mind.
Why do we need to be vulnerable? Brene Brown has written a whole bunch of books about why we need vulnerability. She directly addresses the social aspect of it in Braving the Wilderness. But, most importantly, in a society where we all spend most of our time feeling powerless, this is something that you can actually do.
I’m not saying that I walk around the internet all day having hard conversations with people who disagree with me. I don’t. I believe my energy is better spent elsewhere.
I spend a lot of time asking myself if I’m being completely open and honest with myself. I do this for two reasons.
First, maybe others will never really truly hear me or see me, but I don’t have to do that to myself. I can stop the internal voice that tells me that I’m not worth being heard or seen and honor my own words and feelings. I can give myself a voice inside my own head and regard it with compassion.
Second, if I can’t be open and honest with myself, how can I ever do it with anyone else?
However, I don’t entirely live in my own mind. The next level out from me is my husband. Am I perfectly open and honest with him all of the time? Nope. I do better with him than I do with most other people in my life, but I’m far from perfect about it. I have a few buttons that he can push that’ll immediately cause me to put up my walls and defenses.
My friends and family are on the next level out from me. I have a few friends that are naturally open and honest people, and I find that it’s easy to be the same way when I talk to them. It’s amazing how that works, isn’t it?
I also have friends who won’t put down their defenses. Some of them can’t because they don’t practice honesty with themselves, yet. How can I tell? Everyone can tell. We all know in our gut when someone makes it a practice to lie to themselves. I try to regard them with compassion because they must live in so much fear. Most of the time, I just meet them inside of their boundaries.
One of the harder lessons I’ve learned in my adulthood is that you can’t force people to evolve. People grow on their own schedule. Also, it’s just respectful to let people grow on their own schedule.
Of course, most of us exist on a continuum that changes depending on the day and the circumstances. Courage means that we keep working on it. We make ourselves vulnerable as often as we can without being stupid about it.
Being stupid about it is letting ourselves be emotionally abused. For those of us who come from a background of abuse, it can feel like the whole world is abusive, but it isn’t. We’re trained to believe that it is, so our nervous systems are either hypervigilant about it (where every little challenge feels like abuse) or completely numb to it (where abuse feels normal). The more open and honest we are with ourselves, the more we can tell when we’re being abused and when we’re just merely being challenged.
For me, learning to be open has been an extremely difficult practice and a long road, and I’m still working on it. It comes easier for some people than it does for others, but it gets easier with time.
Anyway, that’s all I have to say about that. Yesterday, I did one last read-through of my short story and sent it to my writer’s group. After that, I went for a run and then did weights. I over-extended myself and my body felt pretty lousy last night. I had to double-up on some painkillers to get to sleep. I’m a little sore today, but not too bad. Wish me luck on my story.