Caitlyn Jenner has caused a firestorm by just doing what she has done. When others began telling of her "courage" to be so public with her actions, the push-back started. It made me ask myself the question at the top of this post.
What do we mean when we talk about courage?Let me start with a personal story. Back in the late 80s I came to the awareness of being an alcoholic and I went into treatment. I was open about it, telling the members of my church in a letter to the congregation. People began to tell me that it took a lot of courage to do that. I would smile politely, say "Thank you" and then add that it wasn't courage, it was just something I had to do.
About eight months later I had the opportunity to get another person into treatment. I sat with he and some of his family for a couple hours talking about the problems of alcoholism and what life could be like if he got sober. He finally agreed and I took him to one of the local treatment centers. I remember saying to him as I prepared to leave, "It takes courage to do what you're doing." A few days later he responded to me that it wasn't courage, just something that had to be done.
At about the same time I was given one of those refrigerator magnet-type cards that had a simple quote on it:
Courage is fear that has said its prayers.Yep. Courage IS doing what needs to be done in spite of fears and worries, consequences or possibilities.
The Google dictionary puts it this way:
- the ability to do something that frightens one.
- strength in the face of pain or grief;
Has it taken "courage" for Jenner to be open and honest? Sure- on one level. Those synonyms and the definition I am sure apply to her. Congratulations to her. It is good for her to have done this! Yes, she will profit from it, which is part of why she has done the PR stuff. It is a very well coordinated public relations campaign for her. Hey- if it works, go for it, because at one point it would have been an awful step to take, PR or not.
- synonyms: bravery, courageousness, pluck, pluckiness, valor, fearlessness, intrepidity, nerve, daring, audacity, boldness, grit, true grit, hardihood, heroism, gallantry;
Is it a different type of courage than someone who has been battling cancer? Again, I have to answer "Yes." Battling a terminal illness is in its own category of courage. To face each day, to live with the terminal awareness, to not entirely give up takes a depth of courage and strength from within and without.
Courage comes in many different ways and is expressed by each individual in their own way. The key is, I believe, to express YOUR courage when you need to. I know that sounds like a wishy-washy kind of statement, but it recognizes that most of us do not face the BIG issues that require the deep expressions of courage. For some it's the courage to stand up to a bully or confront a co-worker or boss on sexual harassment. For a fireman it's to rush into a burning house to save someone (or their pet) and to another it might be taking that vacation hiking trip to confront one's inner demons. These many ways do not cheapen courage. They only show that courage is something we can access any day it's needed.
Courage is the ability to face one's demons and fears, those things that seek to pull us down or destroy us, and not give-in to them. It is being willing to reach for help and move forward.
Let's not play word games. Let's celebrate it as part of what makes the human spirit a place of wonder and awe.