Make Courage a Daily Practice
STAR Foundation Newsletter
Make Courage a Daily Practice
By Thom Rutledge
We usually think of courage in larger-than-life terms. We think of people who have faced insurmountable odds or who have ignored consequences to themselves as they stood up for others. We tend to think of extraordinary people when we think of courage: Martin Luther King, Mahatma Gandhi, or Nelson Mandela may come to mind. Or if I ask you to think of someone who is courageous, you may think of someone you have known personally—a parent or grandparent or friend. Following the attacks of September 11th, we witnessed and honored the courage of not only professional rescue personnel but of ordinary citizens who, faced with unthinkable circumstances, demonstrated the best of humanity in their thoughtfulness and actions. The continued threat of terrorist attack has given us all the opportunity to ask ourselves if we would act with such courage given similar circumstances. For instance, how many of us have taken our seats on an airliner since 9/11 without giving some thought to what we would do in the event of a hijacking?
I believe that most of us are braver than we were a year and a half ago because we have been practicing; that is, we have been rehearsing our courage mentally. The principle is the same as a fire drill: the more familiar we are with the planned procedure in the event of disaster, the more likely we are to act according to that procedure with minimal thought “in the event of an actual emergency.” All of this of course is good, but I think it is important that we also seize the opportunity to expand this rehearsal of courage into our day-to-day, non-catastrophic lives.
We can ask ourselves the question that my friend Jana Stanfield poses in one of her songs: “What would I do today if I were brave?” We need to apply this question to every aspect of our lives, not just in our preparedness for disaster. How would I act today at my job if I were brave? How would I behave in my relationships with family and friends if I were brave? Even, how would I respond to my own inner critic today if I were brave? Jana’s question plops us right in the middle of the present moment, and drops the responsibility of our choices in that moment squarely into our laps. That’s a pretty powerful question— an excellent way to not only rehearse our courage, but also to make courage a daily practice.
Sometimes courage will just happen, but the predominance of courage in our daily lives will increase with practice. I am willing to bet that the day Rosa Parks refused to give up her seat on the Montgomery, Alabama bus in 1955 was not the first day that Ms. Parks acted with courage.
Thom Rutledge, L.C.S.W., is a psychotherapist and author of several books, including his most recent release, “Embracing Fear” (Harper San Frandsco). For more information, visit www.webpowers.com/thomrutledge. Jana Stanfield’s CD, “Brave Faith,” is available through her Web site: www.janastanfjeld.com.