Courage? What Courage?

This past weekend I was in a coaching workshop focused on creating a greater capacity to process your emotions. There was plenty of sharing and plenty of crying. And in the midst of that, there was also a lovely gentleness. When one person would get vulnerable, another person would thank them for their courage.

Courage. The Oxford English Dictionary defines courage as “the ability to do something that frightens one.”

Definitionally, courage is all about me facing my fears. It is about looking them in the face, moving through them, and emerging out the other side. When I feel myself facing my fears, I demonstrate courage. (See my post on fears here.)

But what happens, like I observed so many times this past weekend, when someone else calls me courageous? When I was called courageous this weekend, it didn’t resonate. I felt mislabeled and, frankly, a little phony. I had simply shared my feelings and shown vulnerability about who I am. For whatever reason, those didn’t seem to be big challenges at the time. And they certainly didn’t seem to deserve the grand label of “courageous.”

So what’s going on here?

I think that when we label someone courageous we’re making not making a statement about them so much as we’re making a statement about ourselves. What we see as courage tells us more about our own fears than it tells us about the character of the person we’re talking about. In short, what we label as courageous often indicates what we fear most.

For example, if I am not afraid of spiders, then shooing a creepy-crawly out of the house feels quite trivial. For someone who hates spiders, however, I’ve done a courageous thing. My courage is really just a reflection of their fear.

What do you see as courageous? And what does that tell you about your own fear landscape?

With fierce love (and periodic courage),

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