Often, courage and bravery are used interchangeably.
While they have similar manifestations, they are fundamentally different at their core. These differences can be traced back to the etymology of the words. The root word for bravery is the Italian word “bravo,” which means “bold” but also once meant “wild, savage.” The root word for courage, however, is “coeur”—the French word for “heart.”
Watch the video below to see what it looks like to act from the heart.
The Courage to Be Yourself
If I am not for myself, who will be for me? - Pirkei Avot 1:14
“Just be yourself.”
It sounds so simple. The advice is stitched into pillows, plastered on Instagram pages and written on coffee mugs. But obviously, it is much easier said than done.
Who are you when there is nobody looking, when you aren’t somebody’s child, sibling, student, friend, teacher, parent? And what prevents that version of you from showing up?
Having the courage to be yourself and to understand your uniqueness is incredibly difficult. It leaves you exposed and vulnerable. Once you’ve been seen, it’s hard to hide and the possibilities of rejection – by self or other – are high. And yet, unveiling your true self is a glorious act of defiance that allows you to live a more honest, authentic and intuitive life.
How does one cultivate a sense of courage?
Maybe you’ve always been told you’re too loud, draw too much or not enough attention to yourself, take too many or not enough risks. Maybe you feel different or “Othered”; maybe you’ve had to fight to accept yourself. Are you or do you know someone like this?
In this exercise, you’ll have an opportunity to track how your conceptions of courage were shaped and identify an opportunity to bring yourself forward.
The Courage to Listen
Courage is what it takes to stand up and speak; courage is also what it takes to sit down and listen. – Winston Churchill
Although salvation and relief can come from leaping forward, sometimes the most courageous act is the ability to sit in discomfort and uncertainty. It is the courage to listen rather than act, to submit rather than defy, and to risk not knowing the answers.
The temporary quieting of the self in order to make space for others isn’t easy. A story is told in the Talmud of Hillel and Shamai disputing over a particular interpretation, each asserting that the law was on their side. G-d ultimately sides with Hillel, for Hillel taught Shamai’s opinion alongside his own and even presented his position first.
Hillel’s courage to listen to Shamai was so profound that it ultimately caused G-d to side with him.
The Call to Courage
Some time afterward, G-d put Abraham to the test. He said to him, “Abraham,” and he answered, “Here I am.” - Bereshit 22:1
At momentous points in our life, we must follow our inner convictions and be willing to take critical risks. Sometimes they are grand, and at times they are more measured. What do we intend to stand up for, who are we to make that statement, and what is the imprint that we want to leave on this world?
The call to courage comes as an internal reckoning or an external cry. It is often thunderous, but at times it can come in the form of a whisper, like G-d’s call to Abraham.
And when we are ready, then the reply is simple.
Hineni. I am here.
I am ready to heed the call and leap forward and act. I am willing to enter into the discomfort and follow my heart.
Cultivating courage takes practice. We must come out of our comfort zone to grow. We must learn the art of when to listen and when to speak, when to act and when to hold back, when to paddle to ride a wave, and when to sit back to enjoy the calm waters.
It is an unbelievable act of faith, resilience and acceptance: An acceptance that life is hard; that worthwhile things take effort; that confrontation will be uncomfortable; that you may fail; and that you may triumph.