In a sense, courage is the antidote to fear, or at least the opposite of succumbing to fear, and thus it is a “virtue” we want to cultivate in the service of better parenting (and lives more richly lived).
Courage is defined as, “the quality of mind or spirit that enables a person to face difficulty, danger, pain, etc., without fear; bravery.”
I might expand this definition to suggest that “the quality of mind and spirit” that does the trick is love; thus courage is love in the face of fear.
To fully feel fear, and then manage it, quell it, contextualize it, rise above it… now we’re talking courage.
This is important because if we imagine that brave people feel no fear (or feelings of inadequacy, weakness, pettiness, cruelty, etc.) then when we feel fear we might conclude that we are cowards, inferior to those hardy courageous people. And once we start to imagine that we are cowardly by constitution we become blocked by shame and the insidious belief that we can do no better—because we are not good enough to begin with.
Thus it takes courage to grow, courage to heal and courage to love and persevere in the face of wounds and disappointments. And if love truly turns out to be at the epicenter of courage, perhaps loving each other is a way that we can facilitate courage amongst ourselves.
People who are highly sensitive tend to feel things more acutely (see orchid kids) and thus we sensitive sorts may feel our fears more hugely. For the shy and the sensitive it may take courage to connect, to speak up, to socialize—and yet our kids need us to understand them, to attune with them, to help them manage and modulate their own feelings no matter what our own states of sensitivity, courage, safety and belonging.
In this way parenting requires courage: courage to set limits and bear anger; courage to let go and tolerate fear that our kids could come to harm; courage to trust that we, and our children, are “enough.”
When we think of courage we may think of singular brave beings who stand out from, or above, the group, but as parents we need to muster the courage to be ordinary and part of the group. Perhaps it takes courage to stop worrying about our own specialness and instead think about the good of the group. For this reason it may take a sort of courage to love, and want the best for, everyone’s children (and not merely our own).
In times that are marked by uncertainty and lack of trust (from Wall Street to Washington to all of Our Towns), perhaps rising consciousness about why we are scared (i.e. because we have been hurt and do not possess basic trust) might help us acknowledge our fears and go ahead and love each other anyway.
This could be a way that courage seeps up from below to change culture, micro change emanating and rising from a million small fissures in the fabric of a dysfunctional culture. As we realize that we are our culture, and as we practice love and courage as political, social, psychological and spiritual acts… we begin to live in a world that we want to live in, and we begin to live in that world in a way that we want to live and love.
It is loving our children well that will build their courage—the courage to make a better world.
So let’s remember that even though we’re grown-ups, we’re still in the school of life—therefore if you’re still “undeclared,” consider a major in love with a minor in courage. Put an apple on your own desk this fall, and eat it without fear or guilt; eat it as an act of love suffused with gratitude for apples and pencils and desks and devices and back-packs and new jeans and stickers and lunch boxes and the whole fluxing tide of learning and loving.
In the cosmic, karmic or chaotic scheme of things, being hurt may not be up to us, yet love and courage are (who can stop us from loving?)—especially if we band together, finding courage in love, and placing ourselves in the service of all our collective children.