“Courage is resistance to fear, mastery of fear, not absence of fear.” Mark Twain.
A few years ago, I decided to be intentional on building my character. This was born out of realizing that the people with great character did not become who they were by accident. They chose their character. To start with, I picked seven virtues that would be the core of my character. These made the list; integrity, kindness, love, humility, respect, commitment, and courage.
But on closer examination, I realized that each of the above qualities depend on courage. It made the other virtues stand. Without it, I won’t be able to love for love’s sake, I won’t respect other people’s opinions, or maintain integrity when what I stand for is at odds with what is widely acceptable even though it’s wrong. Maya Angelou, one of the greatest poets and civil rights activist, beautifully captured the importance of courage in regards with other virtues when she said, “Courage is the most important of all the virtues, because without courage you can’t practice any other virtue consistently”. Courage is elemental to success and wholesome living.
At the Core: In her New York Times Bestseller book, Dare To Lead, Brené Brown defines courage as “A set of skills, which includes rumbling with vulnerability, living into our values, braving trust and learning to rise”. I have found Brenè’s assessment of courage to be very accurate. After observing great leaders and trailblazers who have changed how we live or a teenager who I saw standing up for a friend against bullies, I realized that the four skills were in play when they portrayed what we call courage. So, what enables us to conquer fear is stepping into vulnerability, believing in value, trusting it will be alright, and rising above all opponents.
In the following four weeks I will share with you how to develop R.E.A.L courage. We will cover four major areas of our lives – relationships, performance, service, and leadership – that’s embedded in the word REAL, which stands for relationship, equip, attitude, and leadership. Today’s post will focus on relationships, answering the question; how do you bring your real-self in a relationship without giving in to the fear of being vulnerable?
Courage in Relationships
The strength of any relationship is dependent on three factors; the quality of conversations, the state of emotions involved, and forgiveness. Courage enables us to; first, start and continue in a crucial conversation. Authors of Crucial Conversations, Joseph Grenny, Ron McMillan, and Al Switzer defined crucial conversations as conversations when stakes are high, there are opposing opinions, and involves strong emotions. We can agree that at one point or another we have grappled with crucial conversations. We can agree that without courage it is impossible to talk about sensitive but important matters. Fear often prevents us from opening up on things that may threaten the relationship. It can lead us to imagine the worst possible scenarios. When this happens, we feel cornered or defeated and negative behaviors erupt in sarcastic moments and violence. Second, courage allows us to express healthy emotions without being held back by the fears of what-ifs. Finally, courage unleashes the greatest antidote of broken and poisoned hearts, forgiveness. It takes courage to apologize and it takes even greater courage to forgive.
The Measure of courage: The central idea of having courage in any relationship is the welcoming of vulnerability. Vulnerability is exposing our naked hearts on the backdrop of our uniqueness. It is the matrix of our strengths and weaknesses. It is the humanness of our being. Unlike popular belief, vulnerability is not being weak but rather it’s the strength indicator of our courage. It enables us to showcase who we are and bring our truest beautiful selves in any relationship. Brené Brown’s quote underscores the nature of vulnerability, “Embracing our vulnerabilities is risky but not nearly as dangerous as giving up on love and belonging and joy—the experiences that make us the most vulnerable.” But to be vulnerable and build and cultivate courage in our relationships we must do two major things. We must unmask and embrace.
In a world of make-up, Snapchat, and picture filter apps, it is becoming increasingly difficult to know the true identity of people. Before people post or share a picture, they take more than 20 pictures and use filters to hide what makes them beautiful, their “imperfections”. As the world seems more connected, we are increasingly putting on masks to fit in and feel accepted. Worse than putting on masks on social media is showing up in relationships with masks. While we might think that masks hide our weakness and spots of imperfections, they also cover our gifts and strengths which make up for a large part of who we are. As a matter of fact, masks don’t cover our weakness, they manipulate them and project them in an uglier nature that show up in pretense and fake identity. So, wearing a mask in a relationship only propagate fear.
The first step to developing courage in a relationship is taking off the mask. This might seem counterintuitive but it’s by taking the first step of overcoming fear of being seen that ignites courage in us. Unmasking means forsaking the strategy of ego and taking up humility. It’s understanding that people love us for who we are and not for who we pretend to be. It’s giving up trying to prove who you are not and being who you are.
It’s true that when we unmask, we show our scars and wrinkles, but also, we show our stories. The scars show the battles we have overcome, and the wrinkles shows the wisdom we have gained in our mistakes. It’s only by removing the masks we hide behind that the people we are in relationship with embrace us completely.
While unmasking makes people see the true you and appreciate who you are, embracing yourself, draws people to you.
The next step of cultivating courage in a relationship is accepting who you are. Embracing who you are is looking into the mirror and loving who you see. Embracing the color of your skin, the texture of your hair, and most importantly, your personality; whether you are where you want to be or not. Because, the first important step of becoming a person of value is by loving yourself and seeing the value in you. I do this by viewing myself not through the lenses prescribed by society, but through the truth of who God says I am. The question for you is, what’s your true identity? It is by seeing your true value that you’re able to embrace yourself.
But you can never completely embrace yourselves without embracing others. So, as you embrace who you are, embrace others for who they are. Accept their strengths and their shortcomings. This will give you courage in your relationships.
The danger that lays in not embracing yourself fully is lack of confidence. Confidence in others and in yourself. People who haven’t fully embraced themselves often struggle with insecurities. And not embracing others in a relationship will only breed unhealthy expectations and conflict.
Therefore, in order to be fully engaged in a relationship you must develop courage. This is only possible if you’re vulnerable enough to unmask and embrace others and yourself.
Next, we will look at Courage to perform: How to do what you do best. But before then, we have to build courage in relationships. It’s not what we do that makes us satisfied, but who we do it with and do it for that makes us fulfilled; It is the people that count and the relationships we build in this life. So, start to unmask and embrace yourself. It will not be a one-time thing. It will be a process. Be patient and trust the process.