Today I am considering courage as a process of alignment, and specifically of aligning action with intent, in other words aligning what we do with who we are.
This might seem foolishly self-evident since we always act on our intent – we can’t lift a cup of tea to our lips without intending to do so and this has little to do with courage. No, courage enters the scene when we decide to undertake this process with rigour and consistency and ask ourselves some very challenging questions.
What Am I For?
When my elder son was 4 years old he went through a phase of asking me, loudly and within earshot of the poor fellows, ‘mummy, what is that man for?’ It has been a long-standing family joke, and yet today it seems deeply significant. The question ‘What am I for?’ delivers an existential punch, that is often avoided or occasionally tackled only if one is feeling courageous enough.
Finding one’s meaning, ethics or values in life can be a process of adopting a ready-made religious or philosophical doctrine. It can also be a process of questioning one’s own being to find what is good and right. The existential philosophers believe it is our responsibility to develop a personally constructed moral code in order to avoid living inauthentically. Contrary to the opinion of dogmatic people the world over, there is no common, right answer. Committing to the question is of far greater significance than the answer itself.
What Am I Doing About It?
I have always struggled with the phrase, ‘it’s the thought that counts’. To me, a considered intention is vital but it’s the act that counts. Courage means aligning our actions, our behaviour with our intent. So the next challenging question is ‘What am I doing about it?’
This means showing up, speaking up, protecting what is good, and taking the risk to implement change in the hope of something better.
How Am I Doing?
Finally, courage means always monitoring oneself. The last challenging question is ‘How am I doing?’ This means both in the sense of aligning actions with intent, and also assessing the impact of our actions in the world, and adjusting our actions according to our learning.
We need to clear our vision and rid ourselves of self-protective distortions to face the reality of who we are and what we do. We need to use feedback to regulate how we meet the world without diminishing who we are.
This process of orienting towards our life with a commitment to inquiry, action and improvement demands courage, provides a foundation for courage and is courage