Saturday, February 21, 2009

Article 3 of 6: The Role of Courage

...Bo Short

“It is courage, courage, courage, that raises the blood of life to crimson splendor.” ­ ...George Bernard Shaw

The Latin root of the word “courage” means, “heart.” Courage, then, is at the heart of the matter in everything we do.

Courage is often associated with dramatic acts of heroism. But the kind of courage I want to discuss with you is the courage we need to have every day. The courage to deal with the challenges and decisions we face every day of our lives… the courage we need to be successful entrepreneurs and business people… the courage we need to be good husbands and wives and parents… the courage we need to be leaders in whatever profession we may choose… the courage we need to serve our communities and give something back to those who may be less fortunate than we are.

Dreams and vision activate our imagination and can point our lives in new, exciting, and prosperous directions. But vision without action is merely a daydream. It is courage that gives us the boldness to act, to move forward toward achieving our vision. It is courage that gives us the strength to live our lives in pursuit of victory.

I can promise you one thing; when you stand up and set yourself apart, and challenge the mediocrity around you, people are going to laugh. People will laugh at you when you speak of wanting to win, of wanting more for your life and for your family. At that critical moment, the average person succumbs. When they hear the laughter, when they hear people question their vision and their goals, they retreat. They surrender. They give up without ever really getting started.

But the above-average person — the person who refuses to go through life as a nameless, faceless statistic — finds the courage to face that laughter and move on. Living your life to win means striving to achieve your goals despite what other people might say, despite the obstacles you may face. And the most beautiful part about courage is that you don’t have to go looking for it —courage will find you. Courage is already inside of you. All you have to do is to prepare properly. Courage finds those whom have prepared to win.

To be courageous requires no special qualifications… no magic formula… no unique time, place or set of circumstances. Opportunities to be courageous present themselves to us all the time. Winston Churchill wrote, “Courage is rightly esteemed the first of human qualities because it is the quality which guarantees all the others.” Churchill also said, “Success is never final. Failure is never fatal. It is courage that counts.” Yes, it is courage that counts.

Andrew Jackson said, “One man with courage is a majority.” One man or one woman with courage becomes a majority. It takes one person to stand up and make a difference. Many people believe that they, by themselves, cannot make a difference. Of course you can. I guarantee you that you already have made a difference in the lives around you. Think about it.

Researchers say that even the shyest person will influence 10,000 people during the course of their lifetime. Clearly, each and every one of us has the potential to make a large and meaningful difference in our businesses… in our families… in our communities. We can be true leaders if we find the courage to act.

I know that by simply reading this article you are already motivated to make a difference. So remember, it takes just one person standing up and speaking their mind to take over a room. One person can take over and motivate a team. One person can take over and mobilize a company. One person can take over and lead a nation.

In battle, one soldier with courage has meant the difference between victory and defeat. A lone preacher has moved multitudes. It was one man who broke the color barrier in baseball and, by himself, helped change the face of our nation.

Socrates, who is considered one of the wisest men in history, had the courage not to compromise his pursuit of truth. He refused to compromise his philosophies and teachings. Socrates was brought up on false charges, convicted, and forced to commit suicide by swallowing hemlock. Plato, a student of Socrates, held courage in such high esteem that he considered it as one of the cardinal virtues.

Copernicus was laughed at when he discovered that the sun is the center of the solar system and that the earth revolves around it. Galileo was threatened with execution and later placed under house arrest because he actually proved that what Copernicus had discovered was true.

Great composers such as Vagner and Devusee were booed and hissed offstage. The critics wrote them off. But they kept coming back. They were courageous. And they’ve contributed some of the greatest music in the world.

Claude Monet was the originator of impressionism. Today, people stand in lines that stretch entire city blocks to buy tickets to see Monet paintings on exhibit in museums around the world. Claude Monet literally looked at the world differently than any artist who had come before him. And yet, one of the art critics of his day said, “Claude Monet has declared war on beauty.”

You see, people laughed at him for having the courage to pursue his vision of art. But he had the courage to keep going. And I wonder how many of us wish we had the millions of dollars required to purchase a Monet painting.

Picasso was the same way. He broke all the rules that artists had followed since the Renaissance. Picasso’s courage to develop his own style, his willingness to explore something new, contributed more to modern art than anyone before or since.

Look at Gregor Mendel; he was the scientist who discovered the laws of heredity. His work was ignored by the scientific community of his generation. Ignored and ridiculed. Even though Mendel was brilliant, because of a lack of money, he was forced to live as a monk to support his scientific experiments. But Mendel had courage; he kept working. And today we know that Mendel’s work dramatically improved food production around the world, and his laws of heredity have been applied to biochemistry, physiology and even social science.

When Mendel was asked to discuss his efforts he said, “It requires indeed some courage to undertake labor of such far-reaching extent.”

Madame Curie, another scientist, devoted her entire career to studying radioactivity and, as a result, more than one million soldiers were x-rayed with her equipment during World War I. Madame Curie died of leukemia, most likely caused by her lifelong exposure to radioactive materials.

Think of the courage you have already demonstrated in your life. The very challenges you have experienced and overcome in getting this far is exactly what equips you to go farther. You have had to show flexibility, resourcefulness, diligence and grit to get wherever you are today. And those are precisely the qualities that are most valued in the world. They are all part of the courage we need to live to win.

You have faced risks growing up. You have faced risks in your career. The risk of failure looms large for all of us. You may have had to overcome poverty or a broken home or a disability or drugs and violence. Maybe you’re still overcoming them even today.

The PBS evening news reporter, Jim Lehrer, said, “Take risks, be willing to put your mind and your spirit, your time and your energy, your stomach and your emotions on the line. To search for a safe place, to search for an end to the rainbow, is to search for a place that you will hate once you find it. The soul must be nourished along with the bank account and the resume. The best nourishment for any soul is to create your own risks.”

The author Robert Louis Stevenson wrote, “The world has no room for cowards. We must all be ready somehow to toil, to suffer, to die. And yours is not the less noble because no drum beats before you when you go out into your daily battlefields… and no crowds shout about your coming when you return from your daily victory or defeat.”

So be courageous. Claim the courage that is yours. It’s inside you. Be courageous today. Courage will give life to your visions. Courage will help you win. You can do it. You must do it.

Coming Next: The Role of Perseverance in Pursuit of Success.