Choosing Courage to Change the World
I had a remarkably sweet and honest and deep conversation with my friend Paula the other day about courage.
For days afterward, the conversation swirled in my head. This is what emerged from that swirling:
Courage isn’t a one-time thing. Courage is really a long-term strategy.
As I have been stewing over this since our conversation, I’ve been thinking more about this idea of courage…
Courage needs to be part of our long-term strategy if we want to change the world.
I write this in a very specific moment. In the US, the murder of black people by police continues, as does the work of the Movement for Black Lives. As a queer person, I am still standing in the shadow of the massacre in Orlando. And there is a particularly raucous election cycle underway, to put it lightly.
But this is not about the election. This is not about any single fight. It’s about the whole thing.
What we are here to do is to love — and in the process to put an end to suffering.
In order to do that, we’ll need to eliminate the delusions that cause suffering. It is time to rise up and claim our power, our voices, our ability as healers and leaders — whether you identify that way or not. This is the time when we’ll need to gather up the strength not just to tear down what isn’t working, but to build up something new.
All of this is to say:
This moment calls for courage.
This moment is not the beginning — what we are seeing has been going on for ages. Nor is this moment is not the end — we have a long way to go. This moment is, however, in some ways very new. There are new possibilities, new coalitions, new formations coming to life.
There is a new kind of political imagination that is taking hold. One that is inspiring because it does not rely on fear or coercion or more deeply entrenched power dynamics. These new visions are not built on saviors or vague hope, either.
The new demand set — the new world we are collectively dreaming to life — is predicated on our ability to love one another well. This looks like safety and wellbeing that is grounded in community rather than policing. It looks like a just transition from fossil fuels to clean energy that upholds the dignity of workers and communities.
This is all just the start of what we can imagine.
Courage is a strategy for healing on the micro and macro levels.
Our fellow humans are experiencing suffering and they are begging us not to go back to sleep. This moment is calling for the best of what we have to offer. Moments like this tear the veil and cut through what my faith tradition calls delusion.
This is how we shift our internal relationship to ourselves — our understanding of who we are — which allows us to experience healing beyond the superficial. It is also how we begin to shift the culture of overvaluing work and undervaluing love. Through this courage to dispel with delusion we challenge collective values and collectively reimagine our relationships to one another and the planet.
Let’s back up:
What is delusion?
Delusion falls into one of a few categories in Buddhist tradition. Buddhism sees these as barriers to enlightenment and a hinderance to wholehearted living. Delusion is what hides from us our most magnificent selves.
Self-care isn’t always pleasant. Not every kind of healing feels pleasurable. Often, we move toward the kinds of care that feel pleasant — we become attached to those sensations. We move away from forms of healing that are unpleasant — we develop aversion to that discomfort.
But this is delusion, too. Attachment and aversion are two sides of the same coin: attachment to pleasure, aversion to discomfort.
You will make mistakes — and that is great news.
Courage isn’t courage if you know that you’ll succeed. Courage allows us to hold our fear of failing, of falling, of totally screwing up, and lets us move forward anyway.
We can admit without shame that we don’t know what to do or what to say. And from that place, we can take small actions to build trust, integrity, and dignity within ourselves and with one another. This courage to show up as our messy, imperfect, often fearful selves is what will save us.
Our culture has taught us to hide, to shrink — and then to mask that vulnerability with bravado and isolationism. It is within our power to summon the courage to reject that and to start anew.
Great things happen when we are willing to stand in front of our fellow humans as we are — not in competition, but in connection.
The promise of what might happen if we were brave enough to tear down the structural oppression that both benefits us and divides us (and therefore causes suffering) is so sweet. It looks like freedom and interdependence both. It’s time to reject these delusions, projections, and illusions.
What if discomfort is exactly what we need to heal?
What is possible in that space is truly revolutionary. White, Western culture has ingrained in us a sense of perfectionism that leaves us incapacitated. Instead, it’s time to tear those illusions of safety and security in exchange for interconnection and healing.
Temporary discomfort leads to breakthroughs. When we make ourselves at home at our edges, instead of at our center, that’s where we tap into genius. It’s not about being in a “danger” zone or in trauma, but being open to discomfort as the path to learning.
While we’ve rewarded those with controlling natures and a high level of perfectionism, true change happens we don’t see awkwardness or uncertainty as a sign of failure.
Through courage, we can see ourselves as we truly are: both as immensely powerful and as deeply vulnerable. This clarity takes strength and bravery, but it is how we heal. To arrive at true healing, we need to be willing to be unpopular, and to stay in alignment with our hearts, no matter how they try to dissuade us. In that space, we can summon the strength to speak when our voices shake.
Beginner’s Mind: the courage to be uncomfortable.
In the beginner’s mind, there are many possibilities; in the expert’s mind, there are few.
When we hang out in the liminal space of beginner’s mind, learning and expanding can take place. In fact, the magic happens not in being “right,” but in challenging one another in respectful dialogue and disagreement.
This practice, of showing up, getting uncomfortable, being willing to strive and be accountable and to make mistakes: this is the grain of sand that becomes the pearl of wisdom.
Now, it wouldn’t be me if I didn’t gentle this up a bit at the end. This is not for everyone. The history of trauma and the karma of oppression in this country is heavy. It is completely understandable that participation in social justice struggle — or even reading about current atrocities would introduce an unsafe level of risk (physical, emotional, etc.) for some.
I understand that. If that is you, then I am holding you gently in my heart and sending you tremendous empathy and love.
If, however, you are someone who benefits from greatly from your privilege, I am calling on you.
If you are willing and able to engage with this, then now is the time. If you are afraid, that’s okay — you can come sit next to me. If you aren’t sure what to do, that’s okay. You don’t have to do it alone. I am calling up our collective political imagination. If you aren’t sure that you belong, I give you permission to take that first step — to get in where you fit in.
If you are afraid that you will make a mistake and say the wrong thing, well, you probably will. I have. I likely will again. But I am willing to show up as my messy, imperfect self and to be accountable and to try to do better. Be accountable — even your errors can be in service of healing — so long as you try.