Recently my boys and I studied Spartan warrior culture. The Spartan concept of courage was, in essence, to willingly sacrifice your life in battle. From a young age boys were taught to fight. When they were old enough to join the men in war their mothers would kiss them and say something along the lines of, “Return a victor—or a corpse!”
Today we comparatively do not have prescribed roles in which we learn the art of courage, yet the ideals and concepts associated with courage are still very much alive. In our modern developed nation, however, courage has, for the most part, taken on a new face and it’s called authenticity.
It seems that from every facet of life there are calls encouraging us to find, and lead, an authentic life. The celebrities we follow, the bestsellers we read, the many short mantras that pop up in our Facebook feeds are continually calling us to, “Be ourselves. Everyone else is already taken.” (Oscar Wilde in case you’re wondering). Somehow, it seems, our greatest task is to live a life that is, quite simply, real.
To me, this is where it all gets a bit murky. What exactly is the courage to be authentic? Is it the courage to tell your boss what you truly think: that he is a domineering micro-manager, and that you really can complete that project independently? Or is that just predetermined stupidity on your part to risk your income and all the benefits it brings? Is it the courage to be authentic enough to tell that old friend who has somehow, always, taken from you and let you down, that you are finally done? Or is it the courage to let go of the idea that you need to control how that friend behaves, and instead, stick by that person? Is it accepting the shame you believe you will feel by raising your hand in class and asking that “dumb” question, but doing it anyway? Or is it admitting, “well, I just royally screwed up, now didn’t I?”
Why exactly to we struggle so much with finding the courage to live out loud with our own personal choices about who, and how, to be? Why do so many of us turn down the volume, or even hit mute, on the music that lives inside us?
Perhaps it is because of the underlying commonality there is for all individuals who face choices in living a courageous and authentic life, and perhaps it’s not so different from the challenges faced by the Spartans of the past as they summoned courage for their battles.
Deb Burnett, a Nelson-based life coach who specializes in the work of Brene Brown, describes the acts associated with living courageously as evoking vulnerability, and that our personal ‘battle’ is to attempt to understand and confront shame triggers, which Brown would call shame resiliency.
“Courage is the story of our heart. When we are being courageous we are acting out of how we feel, and not how we believe we are supposed to respond in the eyes of somebody else. We have to understand that at all times we are vulnerable, to get hurt, to feel pain, to die. When we embrace the notion that it’s okay to be finite, to know we are not invincible or perfect, we are able to step into our courage. We also need to look at our shame triggers, and understand them to develop resiliency. I like the analogy of stepping into martial arts combat. When you know yourself well and are ready to step into battle with the knowledge that you are being vulnerable, that your strength is your willingness to be open to your opponent, not shut down or shielded, then you are far more likely to succeed in battle. Life is the same way. We need to know where our own weaknesses are so we can step into ‘battle,’ which is our own personal battle to be authentic. When our shame triggers arise (not feeling good enough, or worthy enough) we may revert to the old fight or flight instinct. Instead, the goal is to take perspective, practice self-empathy and feel your courageous and authentic self, as difficult as it might be in that moment.”