December 17, 2015
I’ve never thought of myself as a courageous person. I wouldn’t say I’m afraid or cowardly, but courage isn’t one of the main words I’d associate with myself.
The past few weeks, and with a new definition of courage in hand, however, I’m proud of the courage I’ve demonstrated, especially as my words that weren’t so easy to let out in a society where vulnerability is a scary thing, resulted in positive outcomes. The courage I’m talking about is not the heroic save-someone-from-a-burning-building-or-perform-a-daring-stunt kind. I’m talking about the courage Brené Brown talks about in her book, The Gifts of Imperfection, the same book I’ve mentioned at least once before. Ms. Brown writes:
“Courage is a heart word. The root of the word courage is cor – the Latin word for heart. In one of its earliest forms, the word courage meant ‘To speak one’s mind by telling all one’s heart.’ Over time, this definition has changed, and today, we typically associate courage with heroic and brave deeds. But in my opinion, this definition fails to recognize the inner strength and level of commitment required for us to actually speak honestly and openly about who we are and about our experiences – good and bad.”
A few weeks ago, after a few months of my 9-year-old daughter resisting the idea of a play date with a friend – a friend who she was once very close with – I knew it was time to get to the bottom of things. I suspected that there was likely a misunderstanding at the heart of the issue and that if the moms could agree on a way to help the girls begin a dialogue and perhaps communicate some of their feelings, the girls’ friendship would likely start to blossom again. It wasn’t easy to pick up the phone and call the other mom, and “tell my heart.” Even though I had no intention of starting the dialogue in a confrontational way, and I was simply going to talk to her, parent to parent, and explain that I felt something was “off” with the girls’ friendship, I had no way of knowing how she would react to me even calling and wanting to talk about it. I should mention that I’m VERY much the type of person who, when there is a conflict or a disagreement with anyone in my life, wants to talk things out in person, rather than allow the pain, discomfort, and tension to grow inside of me and drive a wedge between me and the other person. It’s physically painful for me to have conflict build up around me. I suspect I am not alone.
Luckily, my worries immediately faded away and I knew I had done the right thing by speaking my heart when, within seconds of our conversation beginning, she said she was relieved I called and wanted to talk about it too. We talked maturely, mom to mom, without any blame or awkwardness. We listened to each other respectfully and both had the same goal in mind: to clear up any confusion, encourage the girls to acknowledge and apologize if there were any hurt feelings on either end, and ultimately, let the girls’ friendship take its course with any misunderstandings now behind them. We agreed on an idea to help the girls communicate, which involved the girls, the moms, and a spontaneous weeknight dinner. About halfway through dinner, the girls felt safe to giggle and goof around and let each other back in their lives — and their hearts.
While I keep my late Bubbie’s words close to my heart – Little kids, little problems, big kids, big problems — and while I know this is one of many challenges that will arise involving my children (and many challenges that won’t, of course) that will require me to dig deep for my courage and my ability to speak my heart, I have to say it was an amazing feeling, and a huge weight was lifted.
Just this week, I dug for that courage again. This time, due to a more sensitive circumstance, getting the words out was harder. I was nervous and scared to tell my heart. I was even physically shaking a bit. But I dug really deep and, once again, I found it. Afterwards, when I was by myself, I couldn’t hold back my tears. I don’t even know what was causing them. I don’t know if they were tears of relief, joy, or emotional exhaustion. I guess it doesn’t really matter. What matters is that I found the courage inside of me and another weight was lifted.
When I look at the Lion in The Wizard of Oz now, with Ms. Brown’s definition of courage in mind, I think he had the courage he was looking for all along. He wasn’t afraid to tell his heart and he even put himself out there by asking to join Dorothy on her journey to meet the Wizard. And he also wasn’t afraid to admit his shortcomings. To me, those are pretty courageous acts right there.
I can only hope G-d gives me the strength when I need to dig deep for my courage, because I believe only good can come of telling my heart.