Courage: Another “C” Representing What It Means To Be Human

Yesterday we honored the memory of John Lewis as a fine model of what it means to be human highlighting his call for “standing firm” in resisting injustices.  Courage was a mark of his life and being.  Courage is one of the important “10 C’s.”  Without it, compassion and justice-making are not possible.

“Bloody Sunday” – A state trooper swings a billy club at John Lewis, chairman of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee, during the civil rights voting march in Selma, Alabama, 3/7/1965. Lewis sustained a fractured skull. AP file photo uploaded to Flickr by bswise.

Courage, as Aquinas taught, is the most basic of all moral virtues; without courage no other virtue is sustained or sustainable. 

Fear will accomplish little or nothing and it will taint whatever it touches.  Courage stands up to fear. None of the Ten C’s we are speaking of will be brought into practice if we cannot stand up to fear and work out of courage.  The word “courage” comes from the French for a “large heart.”  We need to expand our hearts. 

Congressman John Lewis speaks to 2,000 social justice activists at the #MARCH2JUSTICE rally against police violence, April 21, 2015. Photo by Stephen Melkisethian on Flickr.

Cosmology helps us to do that, for it sets our lives in a larger context and awakens awe; so too does joy that “expands the heart”; so too do letting go, facing chaos and darkness, so too does increased creativity which expands our “moral imagination” as M. C. Richards put it; and compassion too expands the heart.  Courage is what the “spiritual warrior” or “prophet” majors in. 

Some people ask: How do you teach courage?  Is courage teachable?  We can study the teachings of wisdom traditions as to how to develop the prophetic and warrior side to ourselves and how to encourage its development in self and others.  In these ways we can teach courage. 

The Rev. Fred Shuttlesworth. Image from, courtesy of the Library of Congress.

We can learn from persons of courage.  John Lewis was such a person.  The civil rights movement gave birth to many courageous activists.  Rev. Fred Shuttlesworth was a civil rights minister in Birmingham, Alabama during the most dire times of Ku Klux Klan resistance to civil rights.  The Klan bombed his house and beat him with chains three times and Sheriff Bull O’Connor arrested his eight and ten year old children. 

I asked Rev. Shuttlesworth: “Where did you get your courage?”  He replied:

You can call it courage.  But I call it trust.  When they bombed my house and I walked out of it alive I said to myself: ‘They cannot kill me.  Oh, they might kill my body, but they cannot kill me and they cannot kill the movement.’

Courage, like any virtue, takes practice.  Finding one’s voice develops courage.  So do practices of letting go and letting be.  Meditations, tasting calmness and learning to be at home with solitude—all these practices are ways to grow in courage as well.

U.S. Rep. John Lewis speaks to the crowd at the Center for Civil and Human Rights at Atlanta. About 60,000 people participated in the Atlanta Women’s March, January 21, 2017. Uploaded to YouTube by Georgia News

Courage is also found in community.  Being with others who share commonly held values is a great support in taking courageous action. 

Protesting together builds up courage, knowing you are not alone.  Finding a courageous community to share with can increase the joy and the fun of standing up and being counted.

Adapted from Matthew Fox, The A.W.E. Project: Reinventing Education, Reinventing the Human, pp. 121-126.

Banner Image: Congressman John Lewis, Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi, and civil rights leaders mark the 50th Anniversary of the Equal Rights Marches from Selma to Montgomery at the Edmund Pettus Bridge in Selma, Alabama.Photo uploaded to Flickr by Nancy Pelosi.

How have you learned courage in your life experience?  Who have been your teachers?  Are you also a teacher of courage?

The A.W.E. Project: Reinventing Education, Reinventing the Human

The A.W.E. Project reminds us that awe is the appropriate response to the unfathomable wonder that is creation… A.W.E. is also the acronym for Fox’s proposed style of learning – an approach to balance the three R’s. This approach to learning, eldering, and mentoring is intelligent enough to honor the teachings of the Ancestors, to nurture Wisdom in addition to imparting knowledge, and to Educate through Fox’s 10 C’s. The 10 C’s are the core of the A.W.E. philosophy and process of education, and include: compassion, contemplation, and creativity. The A.W.E. Project does for the vast subject of “learning” what Fox’s Reinvention of Work did for vocation and Original Blessing did for theology. Included in the book is a dvd of the 10 C’s put to 10 video raps created and performed by Professor Pitt.
An awe-based vision of educational renewal.Frederic and Mary Ann Brussat, Spirituality and Practice.

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6 thoughts on “Courage: Another “C” Representing What It Means To Be Human”

  1. Avatar

    I love this , it,s so powerful.
    “Fear will accomplish little or nothing and it will taint whatever it touches. Courage stands up to fear. ”
    So many great insightful and eternal truths from all the wisdom traditions.
    It seems to me so much of our culture is in despair and necrophilia and wants something more ,something juicy and not dried up. For ssome they seek it in addictions and consumerism, for others they look for an external affirmation through religion..
    BUT.. all along the universe has affirmed us and blessed us- we know this with both the new cosmology and the wisdom traditions that have ALWAYS known this .
    Thank you again , every day is a jewel of wisdom and reflection on what matters, what really matters…Mort ( Black Chapel)

    1. Carol Kilby

      Thank you Mort for your contribution to the meditation. Making the connection between what matters and courage is an important point of discernment. It reminds me of a saying on the wall of a women’s shelter in Thailand: We Must Spend Our Lives On The Best of Struggles. The phrase was turned into a song by Caroline McDade.

  2. Avatar

    Yes, courage can be learned and it is essential to our ability to do justice. This has been researched. (See, e.g., The Psychology of Courage, ed. Pury & Lopez). Rushmore M. Kidder identifies 3 keys to moral courage. First is the realization that a moral principle applies to a situation that, secondly, would carry danger if it were followed. The third – the willing endurance of that danger.
    Interviews with the people who hid Jews from the Nazis show these three components. They indicated that they felt accountable to the principles their parents taught them and gave those more weight than their own safety and that of their children. “How could I have faced my children,” one said, “if I had let others die in order to save them? What kind of moral legacy would that have been? I owed it to my family to follow moral principles.” In facing the conflict between what was best for humanity and what was best for his family, he realized that it was not best for his family to cause them moral injury for the sake of physical survival. The wisdom of the world says save yourself. Universal love may have a different answer.
    I find it unsettling that Christianity places so much emphasis on hope and so little on courage. In Embracing Hopelessness, De La Torre helps me see that hope works to keep the power structure intact while courage on the part of those with no realist hope is what topples injustice.
    May we all campaign for questioning the value of hope and learning courage instead.

    1. Carol Kilby

      Thank you Arden, and welcome to the meditations conversation. You bring some fascinating research and expand our thoughts with your references to morals. Your making the connection between hope and courage is most helpful.

  3. Avatar

    The depth of courage featured here is breath-taking and an example to us all. I do find it ironic and tragic that while John Lewis lies in state, his colleagues fight over whether to lower unemployment benefits extensions from $600 to $200, when people are being evicted from their homes. Ordinary people who struggle every day in these dire circumstances show a depth of courage also, in my opinion.

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