The Personal Courage Muscle
I am sure that many of you were as shocked as I was at the passing of Chadwick Boseman this weekend. At first, I was saddened because he was a young man (he and I are the same age). Then I thought about his family and the millions of people he affected in a positive way. (Chadwick introduced many people to American heroes such as Jackie Robinson, Thurgood Marshall and King T’Challa.) After the shock of the news wore off, I started to think about how his battle with cancer and his refusal to let it derail his personal and professional journey spoke volumes about his integrity and personal courage.
When I was serving in the Army one of the core values of the service that was drilled into us from day one was personal courage. Over time I developed the belief that personal courage is the ability to face fear, danger or adversity, whether it be moral or physical. It’s not the absence of fear but rather the ability to act and think when feeling fear. Courage is more often connected to physical acts of bravery and valor. But most people are tested more often when it comes to moral courage. People with moral courage stand firm on their values, principles, and convictions – regardless of outcome. A person with fully developed ideas of moral courage take responsibility for their decisions and actions, are critical of their own behavior and have the courage to change things when they need to be changed.
Think about the battle Chadwick fought against cancer; try and imagine it in the context of today’s world. How much discipline and personal courage did it take to keep his health problems hidden from the world? We live in a world where news reporting and social media is 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, 365.25 days a year global cycle. That fact alone speaks volumes for his character and the depths of his moral and physical courage. I am convinced that there were many days where Chadwick thought about just going ahead and letting the information out. I’m sure the internal conflict he experienced was incredibly difficult during periods of treatment as the outpouring of sympathy and support would have given him an immediate emotional lift, I am sure. I don’t know for a fact, but I have a hunch that his decision to keep his struggle quiet was based on protecting his family and his awareness of what he meant to his fans especially the young ones.
As human beings we need to develop skills and learn to become more competent in how to deliver our message. In order to do this, we need to understand ourselves better. We need to question who we are and understand the values of our honesty, bravery and authenticity. In understanding our behaviors, we will be able to develop our skills in handling conflict – do I become defensive and exhibit attacking behavior, or do I avoid conflict at all costs? At the heart of this is our personal reaction to fear, and what we need to achieve in order to move from fear to freedom and effectiveness.
Just like exercising our body we need to develop the ‘muscle’ to exercise personal courage on a daily basis. By doing this task we start to expand our own beliefs, values and ‘truth’. Once we understand our abilities and most importantly our limitations, we will be able to connect more compassionately and have a greater ability to inspire others we lead and frequently interact with. If we can’t manage ourselves, how can we hope to lead and inspire others? It is especially true that the more you understand yourself the more powerful life you are able to live. I mentioned earlier that personal courage is the ability to harness and acknowledge fear, it is not the absence of it. Despite appearing counter-intuitive, fear is actually a key ingredient to building personal courage. If you can understand what fear means to you and how it impacts your reactions, feeling and psyche, you can harness it, control it and thrive rather than falling back to the ingrained biological responses of fight or flight.
I think Chadwick Boseman understood these principles and because he did, his art absolutely reflected his reality.