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Brené Brown, professor and author, has spent the past 10 years studying vulnerability, courage, authenticity and shame. Read more »
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Courage is a huge theme in my life. It seems that either I’m praying for some, feeling grateful for having found a little bit, appreciating it in other people, or studying it. I don’t think that makes me unique. Everyone wants to be brave.
After spending the past ten years interviewing people about the truths of their lives—their strengths and struggles—I realized that courage is not something we have or don’t have, it’s something we practice. And, thankfully, something we can teach and model for our children.
The root of the word courage is cor—the Latin word for heart. In one of its earliest forms, the word courage had a very different definition than it does today. Courage originally meant “To speak one’s mind by telling all one’s heart.” Over time, this definition has changed, and, today, courage is more synonymous with being heroic. Heroics are important and we certainly need heroes, but I think we’ve lost touch with the idea that speaking honestly and openly about who we are, about what we’re feeling, and about our experiences (good and bad) is the definition of courage. Heroics are often about putting our life on the line. Ordinary courage is about putting our vulnerability on the line. In today’s world, that’s pretty extraordinary.
When we pay attention, we see courage every day. I see it in my classroom when a student raises her hand and says, “I’m completely lost. I have no idea what you’re talking about.” Do you know how incredibly brave it is to say “I don’t know” when you’re pretty sure everyone around you gets it? (Of course, in my twelve-plus years of teaching, I know there are usually at least ten more students who feel the exact same way.)
I saw courage in my daughter, Ellen, when she called me from a slumber party at 10:30 p.m. and said, “Mom, can you come get me?” When I picked her up, she got in the car and said, “I’m sorry. I just wasn’t brave enough. I got homesick. It was so hard. Everyone was asleep, and I had to walk to Libby’s mom’s bedroom and wake her up.” I pulled into our driveway, got out of the car, and walked around to the backseat where Ellen was sitting. I scooted her over and sat next to her. I said, “Ellen, I think asking for what you need is one of the bravest things that you’ll ever do. I suffered through a couple of really miserable sleepovers and slumber parties because I was too afraid to ask to go home. I’m proud of you.”
I also see courage in myself when I’m willing to risk being vulnerable and open with my children. If I experience a disappointment or make a mistake or if I’m nervous about a new challenge, I often share those stories with my kids. I try to make sure the stories are age-appropriate and relatable. I want them to understand that we’re all imperfect and vulnerable, and they’re not alone in those struggles.
Just last week my son Charlie told me that he wasn’t sure that he could play at his piano recital. He said, “Remember when you told me and Dad that you were really scared to talk on TV and that you knew you were going to make a mistake? That’s how I feel. It’s too scary.” I was able to tell him that I actually made lots of mistakes, but that it was a good experience. It was a great launching point for an honest conversation about the importance of owning our feelings and the power of simply showing up.
I believe that owning our stories and loving ourselves through that process is the bravest thing we’ll ever do. When we share our stories of vulnerability and imperfection with our children we teach them that it is possible to be brave and afraid at the same time - in the same moment. When we honor their storytelling, we honor their courage.
Here are a few things we do to cultivate storytelling and courage around our house:
What do you think? How do you cultivate story with your family?
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