The word “courage” brings pictures up in our minds.
What does the word conjure up for you? I think of winning 800-meter races, climbing mountains in Colorado, jumping off cliffs. It reminds me of fierce, warrior personas: knights and Saxons and pirates. The word sounds tough in a pleasant way; something similar to confidence. Yarrgh! Courage!!
Well. That’s all wrong.
The word courage comes from a Latin root word meaning “of the heart.”
Brené Brown, a brilliant researcher, author, and public speaker on the issues of shame, courage, vulnerability and worthiness (and how they are all connected), translates the word to “wholeheartedness.”
“Courage, when it first came into the English language,” she explained in her now-famous TED talk, “The original definition was, ‘To tell the story of who you are with your whole heart.’”
To tell the story of who you are with your whole heart.
She put it another way: Vulnerability.
I can just imagine you all, running away as fast as you can. Probably because I’m running away too.
So much for being courageous.
So to properly define courage, we have to shatter all of those noble, valorous images in our heads and replace them with what it means to be vulnerable.
Ok ok don’t stop reading! I know. It sucks. Vulnerability is a yucky word.
In fact, vulnerability is terrifying. Not in a glamorous, heroic way, like the way skydiving is terrifying. It’s more like a small, shrinking, red-faced sort of terrifying – a quiet, awful terrifying. Vulnerability is:
>>That choked feeling creeping into your throat when you must say something hard, but necessary and true. Or when you hear it from someone you want desperately to please.
>>The vague uneasiness you feel when you have the opportunity to pursue a new friendship with someone you wouldn’t normally get along with.
>>When someone sees you cry.
>>Or that sick nausea when you look someone in the eye and tell them:
“I break things and scream at the top of my lungs when I’m angry,”
“In my marriage to you, I put myself first – and it’s obvious now that I hurt you deeply with my selfishness. Can you forgive me?”
“I can’t stop comparing myself to others, and its ruining my ability to grow as a person because I am allowing myself to wallow in self-pity instead.”
“I need help.”
Admitting those things is courage.
Admitting those things to yourself is courage, and admitting them to the people who need to hear it is also courage.
Everyone has awful secrets. Everyone is afraid that they will be rejected if they expressed the truth about themselves.
But that’s the thing. When one person decides to act in courage, even in a small way, it can impact another person…in a big way! When you decide to let yourself be seen in a way that is raw and real and risky, you are empowering someone else to do the same, and opening up opportunities for a whole new level of relationship with them.*
Vulnerability is strength. Vulnerability is facing square what scares you most — yourself.
We’re not so good at that in this generation, are we? We’re busy making our lives look epic and brave on facebook and instagram, we have lots of wonderful buzzwords like “adventure” “wanderlust” and “risk” …but when we’re face to face with another person, and with the opportunity to show a real part of our self to them…
Often we choke. I mean really, really choke. To the point that sometimes we don’t even let face-to-face opportunities happen. If you think about it for a minute, I think you will know exactly some of the ways you do this.
Let me prove it to you. When you are making an appointment with a friend, do you usually call or text them?
I often text. Why? Because it’s easier.
But is it really? Is it really easier to take 10 minutes to character-by-character, say,
“hey wanna come over tomorrow?”
(wait 2 minutes)
“sure what time”
text reply “2pm sound ok?”
(wait 5 minutes)
“yep! see you then!”
10 minutes for an 15-word conversation when you literally could have dialed, waited for them to pick up, and had the exact conversation in less than 2 minutes?
Why is it “easier” to text??
Because we don’t have to actually say anything! We can keep it strictly business, we avoid awkward pauses or having to talk about anything else. We don’t have to put our hearts into it in any way. Not even a little bit.
(Ok, that was just an example, and I really don’t think we’re horrible people because we text instead of call. But you see what I mean?)
So what would happen if we consciously decided to live wholeheartedly?
To tell the story of who we are with our whole heart? The phrase has as a solid sound to it. It sounds rich and good, and you’ve probably met people that give you that rich, good feeling because they are embracing the meaning of that word. They’ve learned that it’s worth it.
Even though it means there’s a lot more room for rejection.
Even though there’s a lot more room for failure.
Even though there’s a lot more room for ridicule and blame.
The next time you come face to face with the opportunity – when you’re looking somebody in the eye with the chance to be real, to speak something out of your soul, even if it’s painful or embarrassing or vulnerable — remember:
Vulnerability is strength.
So take courage. Tell the story of who you are with your whole heart.
If you were blessed by this, could you share this with ONE other person who you think would be blessed as well?
*more on this in the next letter!