On Courage

Stephen Carter believes “reflection” is the key to leadership. I’d tweak this and say that it requires reflection and courage. It’s not enough just to think lofty thoughts. For example, if you ask a boy what to do in a difficult situation, he will usually give you the “right” answer. Ask him, though, if he would actually DO what is clearly the right thing – would he talk directly to a classmate who had cheated on a test, for instance — and he’ll struggle to respond.

Aristotle pointed out that, “We learn courage by doing courageous things.” Perhaps instead of giving boys titles or positions, we might more effectively promote leadership by putting students in situations, which would require them to flex their courage muscles?

Here is one short example of the kind of courage that can make an extraordinary impact: A member of my extended family has been sober for many years, and he recently shared how his life changed because of courage.

“Years ago, some friends staged what is now referred to as an ‘intervention’ as they confronted me with the indisputable fact that my drinking had not only crossed the line into addiction, but that my behavior had impacted their own lives so strongly that they had to face their fear of losing my friendship and speak the truth to me.

It was a huge risk that they took, because my anger always seemed close to the surface, fed, as it was by the loss of inhibition that comes with excessive alcohol consumption. But, after trying to talk themselves out of it for several days, they came to my home, faced me, and with the approval of my employer, issued the ultimatum that I had to stop playing the game that I was able to manage things, face the reality of my self-destructive pride, and let others help me retool my life, a day at a time, into something I might someday be proud of.

The challenge they gave me was mountain high: I who had been raised to believe that asking for help was a sign of weakness, and that to show fear was to invite abuse, was forced to rethink a whole lifetime of behaviors and to humbly admit that I was indeed powerless, not only over alcohol, but over so many other areas where I had chosen isolation over intimacy.”

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