courage is a heart word.
Courage is a huge theme in my life. It seems that I'm either praying for some, feeling grateful for having found a little bit, appreciating it in other people, or studying it.
After interviewing hundreds of people about the truths of their lives - the strengths and the struggles - I realized that courage is one of the most important things that resilient people share in common. And, not just any kind of courage; I found that resilience, empathy, compassion and connection require ordinary courage.
Here's what I mean . . .
The root of the word courage is cor—the Latin word for heart. In one of its earliest forms, the word courage literally had a very different definition than it does today. Courage originally meant “To speak one’s mind by telling all one’s heart.” Over time, this definition has actually changed, and today, courage is synonymous with being heroic or performing brave deeds.
Heroics and bravery are important, but I think we've lost touch with the idea that speaking honestly and openly about who we and about our experiences (good and bad) is the ultimate act of courage. Heroics is often about putting your life on the line. Ordinary courage is about putting your vulnerability on the line. In today's world, that's pretty extraordinary.
For me, practicing ordinary courage means telling my story with all of my heart.
Here's a little bit more in case you're a "wordie" like me.
Several scholars believe that the changing definitions of courage mirrors a cultural shift that has diminished the value of women’s voices and stories. In the late 1990s, 150 therapists gathered in Vermont to talk about courage and the word’s evolution (how totally cool is that?).
Reverend Jane Spahr, a Presbyterian minister and gay/lesbian rights activist, attended the conference. She told the stories of Saint George and Saint Martha to illustrate the different ways we think about courage. She explained that Saint George slew the dragon because the dragon was bad, but Saint Martha tamed and befriended the dragon. She went on to say, “This is one of our feminist myths that has been lost. Courage could mean to slay the dragon. But could it also mean to tame our fears?”
I’m not sure where the term "ordinary courage" first appeared, but I discovered it in an article on women and girls by researcher Annie Rogers:
Rogers, A. G. (1993). Voice, play, and a practice of ordinary courage in girls’ and women’s lives. Harvard Educational Review, 63, 265–294.