Life Lessons – Courage

“Courage is not the absence of fear but rather the recognition that there is a greater purpose in the pursuit than the consequences that may result.”

There is a storyline that has been told and retold throughout history that is a tale of a hero making journey against impossible odds. The plot is of a solitary figure combating injustice, risking death to save the down trodden, or the figure of great integrity battling an evil bureaucracy to reestablish human dignity. From the Odyssey or David and Goliath in ancient literature to modern fictional characters such as the Lone Ranger, James Bond or Aticus Finch in to Kill A Mocking Bird, the stories inspire our imagination where we too possess the attributes of courage.

Yet courage, in real life, is less a series of dramatic events and more a single moment in time that demands an obvious action. People normally thought of as heroic train over and over again to react to potential situations in a way that keeps their emotions in check while preforming their duty. Members of the military face a battle without letting the reality of facing death debilitate them. Fire fighters rush into a burning building because their training has conditioned them to react without a thought of the potential danger. We think of this as courageous but the trained professional doesn’t understand the praise because they are “only doing their job”.

Similarly, a normal person who acts spontaneously to a save a child in danger or a passerby who rushes to help those in an auto accident do so without assessing the risk they may be putting themselves in. More often then not, they feign being called a hero because to them they are nothing special, they are only doing “what anyone would have done”.

Therefore, what is courage? It involves a frame of mind that propels an action because it has a greater purpose, at that moment, than anything else. Those who act in this way have a compelling purpose and an uncommon energy that takes over in a moment with no preparation or thought process. In many such incidences, there is little explanation as to why they were compelled to act, only that they acted instinctively and seemingly without an ability to do otherwise.

In this sense, we are all courageous when we act on a purpose in our lives. When we live for something other than ourselves we are heroes to those we use our time and talent to support. How many of us revere our mother of father for the sacrifices they made for us? When it comes our turn to give back, we do so instinctively without thinking of ourselves but only repaying what was done for us. And, there are other causes in our lives that compel us to demonstrate our willingness to give rather than take. Service clubs in our communities, non-profits supporting the underprivileged, neighbors pitching in after a destructive storm are the avenues for all of us to be courageous when we do so willingly and without any thought of making a sacrifice.

Finding your purpose and living your purpose is what Stage 12 in the book is meant to illuminate. In particular, this chapter gives an understanding of the attitudes inherent in giving. You are likely not to feel completely whole, completely satisfied or have a sense of belonging if you live without purpose. This essay is an encouragement for you to step back from self-centered pursuits and do so without any contemplation of the consequences.

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Reinterpreting Negative Experiences – Anger

When you Experience Anger, it brings an understanding of Forgiveness.

What is anger? Anger is an intense negative emotion that involves a strong hostile response to a perceived provocation, hurt or threat. Anger can occur when a person feels their personal boundaries are being violated and may involve a learned (automatic) tendency to retaliate out of the need for self-protection. More specifically anger is likely used to cover up fear, hurt or sadness which leads some scholars to classify anger as a secondary emotion.

The following model explains the progression of anger I have experienced.
I experience a feeling that I interpret as negative because I don’t want that feeling.
I don’t question or attempt to get in touch with the actual feeling.
Instead, I instantly focus on what I perceive to be the cause of the feeling.
My split-second objective is to change the circumstances that caused it so the unwanted feeling will go away.
Therefore, all my energy is focused on changing what is going on outside me.
In the moment, I make no calculation as to whether I can or have the right or actual capacity to change what is outside.

The fallacy here is I think someone or something outside me caused an unwanted feeling. Since I operate on the premise that no one has the right to effect my feelings, I have the right and obligation to protect my space, my integrity. In this way, my conditioning not to tolerate certain feelings comes from my erroneous belief that I can control what happens to me and produces an instinctual reaction which come from inside, not outside of me. Had I learned an important lesson with an objective review of the situation I would recognized that I had caused my own anger and had no right to attempt to impose my will.

The alternative to reacting out of anger is forgiveness toward myself. I need to forgive myself for my internal reactive nature that does not want to accept the reality that I am the source of my feelings. I need to forgive myself for the physiological responses my body produces that make acting out on my feelings seem imperative. The increased heart rate, the release of adrenalin, the laser focus; these are the natural mechanisms necessary for the survival of our species. And, I need to forgive myself for displacing my feelings that causes me to be aggressive toward others.

To be sure, there are precipitating events to which I react and I acknowledge that there is unfairness or thoughtless behavior on the part of others. However, if I choose to be judgmental or feel the certainty of right and wrong, then I construct a perceived conflict that I must rectify. I don’t need to forgive someone else if I don’t hold them to my arbitrary standard in the first place. When I hold on to the idea that I must defend myself then the idea of being threatened defines how I view my world. I need to forgive myself for imposing my standards on someone without their knowledge and certainly without their permission.

Write about 2 or 3 situations where your anger caused a situation to become worse. Describe if you thought you had a right to be angry and how you tried to express this justification. What may have been a better way to handle the situation.

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Reinterpreting Negative Experiences – Abandonment

When you Experience Abandonment, it brings an understanding of Self-Reliance.

Abandonment is one of the most feared of emotional experiences. I have, in the past, attempted to avoid feeling abandonment by either not engaging in relationships at all or limiting my relationships to people I was certain would not leave me. This led me to entrust my emotional well being with people who were emotionally unstable themselves.

Intellectually I accept abandonment as a fact of life and the experience is universal. Yet emotionally the fear of abandonment is so strong I find myself acting irrationally. For example, when I feel a cherished relationship may end, my anticipation of abandonment is just as painful as the actual experience and I end up perpetuating the feeling over time rather than dealing with it just once.

I found the following statement on Wikipedia that describes emotional abandonment as “a subjective emotional state in which people feel undesired or discarded. People experiencing abandonment feel at a loss, cut off from a crucial source of support that has been withdrawn. Typically, the breaking of the emotional bond is one-sided, that is, the object of one’s attachment is the one who chose to break the connection. Feeling rejected has a biological impact in that it activates the physical centers in the brain and can leave a long lasting emotional imprint.

For all of the emotional energy I expend in dealing with actual or perceived abandonment, I have found that there is life after divorce, there is happiness after rejection, there is a sense of inner peace after desertion. In reality, I must acknowledge that in many ways my life is better afterwards, not only better than I thought it would be but better than I dreamed it could be. In this way I am released from the sadness that things will not be as I had expected but instead, things will unfold as my life’s adventure continues.

The lesson I take away from this experience is that walking through the feelings of loss and loneliness that accompany abandonment add to my emotional strength. Self-reliance includes living each day knowing “I will be taken care of” which provides a forward perspective, not back. My experience that “all things work together for good” give me gratitude for the happiness I’ve experienced and the happiness yet to come. When I place my emotional well-being in the knowledge that “better days lie ahead” I don’t need push my negative feeling away but neither do I need to be held captive by them.

As I fill my reservoir of self-reliance, I develop an ability to enjoy my relationships without the fear of the pain that may result from separation. Self-reliance means I depend less on the other person for my self-worth and give them the freedom to make the choices that are best for them, not mine. This healthy independence makes the relationships stronger and is the basis for honesty and openness that makes for truly meaningful interaction. Self-reliance, in this sense, is not refraining from a relationship but establishing and maintaining an adult-to-adult relationship where I focus less on their part and more on my responsibilities to myself and them.

Have you experienced abandonment? How did it feel? How did you react? Did your reactions make the situation better or worse for yourself (describe how)?

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Recognizing Our True Behavior – Principled

I thought I was being Principled, until I saw I was being Self-Righteous.

A person who is principled has character traits that imply acting in accordance with a moral compass and/or showing a recognition of right and wrong. There is something attractive about someone known to be honesty, forth-right or with a track record of noteworthy accomplishments. They are trusted, in many cases, without the need to prove their assertions. They are often given positions of leadership because of the integrity they embody.

It is true that we can be disappointed when our trust is misused by someone who masquerades as a principled person. For Example, a confidence-person emulates principled characteristics to take advantage of the unsuspecting, politicians don’t keep their promises or some members of the clergy are unable to live up to the high standards expected of them. Yet we hold on to the ideal that living by principles is a highly desirable trait.

This essay attempts to bring out the potential that some people who want to be known as principled are in fact acting out of self-interest, only pretending to be disciplined. In such cases they exhibit attitudes of haughtiness, an air of superiority, or sometime are condescending toward those with whom they interact. They assume they are entitled to leadership roles or that their opinions should not be questioned. These are the people who seek to influence outcomes and form alliances to preserve their power-base; all the while acting as if they are perceived to be principled and, therefore, above reproach.

Self-righteousness is certainly exhibited with attitude; however, it reveals an underlying character flaw. This character flaw must be addressed with deep self-examination and concerted effort to modify this behavior. The circumstances that lead to someone recognizing their self-righteousness are likely painful. Without an event that produces an abrupt and piercing emotional pain many are unable to begin to understand and take responsibility for the effects of their behavior on others. For those who make this transition the characteristics of acceptance, forgiveness and humility soften their hard edges.

How do you function in situations where group dynamics bring out a variety of personality types? What are your deep motives as you participate? Do you talk critically about the strong personalities to others outside of the group discussion? How do you want others to see you and your role in the group?

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Resolving Your Discomfort

You are the Cause Your Own Discomfort
Therefore, You are the Solution to Resolving Your Discomfort.

How many times a week are messages sent that should convey that you cause of your own discomfort? These messages come from that almost imperceptible tightening in your gut that you ignore or immediately dismiss. It happens each time you shade the truth in order to avoid some perceived embarrassment, each time you feel you are entitled to be heard, each time you express your opinion as if you know more than others in the discussion.

These momentary discomforts grow into persistent irritants when you are frequently called on your inconsistencies, when you are aware that others stiffen when you enter the room, when someone pushes back to something you say in a way that seems aggressive or out of context.

Over time you begin to sense an alienation toward others, you feel as though you need to be combative in order to be taken seriously or you need to defend and prove all the positions you take. This reactive behavior makes each succeeding situation more contentious and heightens your defensiveness.

For many continuing discomforts grows into a gnawing resentment that precedes an interactions and colors your expectations about how the situation will unfold. This unrecognized prediction is a construct of your own making and guarantees an unsatisfactory relationship. The good news is that all of this discomfort is within you own power to change.

The solution is to first become aware of your attitudes and actions that are causing discomfort. You must make a directed effort to modify your behaviors that bring about these discomforts. Secondly, when you find yourself acting inappropriately, quickly acknowledge what you did and indicate you are working on your behaviors.

A critical element of the solution is to keep the focus on your own behavior. It makes no difference how someone else act or reacts. When you take responsibility for yourself and act in a measured way, you benefit with less resentment. You are not saddled with the residual emotional hangover that comes with confrontation and are left with a sense of inner peace.

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Recognizing Our True Behavior – Patience

I thought I was being Patient, until I saw I was being Stubborn.

Patience, in the adjective form, implies acceptance or tolerance of delays or problems without becoming annoyed or anxious. Patience, therefore, is a function of not seeing ourselves as more important that others. Things are allowed to be as they are without any effort on our part to manage or control to have what we desire. In fact, the lack of annoyance or anxiety means we are at ease with the situation even though we may not understand or appreciate it.

Being stubborn has some similar elements in that we do not actively intervene in a situation. But stubbornness exists without the acceptance that comes with patience. Usually stubbornness comes with a dissatisfaction or even disgust with what is happening. Even though we may stand quietly in the background, there is an air of frustration and disapproval in how we view the situation. Such feelings of non-acceptance are expressed in facial expressions and body language that are nearly impossible to hide.

In order to transition from stubbornness to patience we use the three principles of Acceptance, Forgiveness and Humility. For many of us this implies a form of weakness or passivity that seem to be at odds with the strong, self-directed image we like to project. However, each of these three principles need to be applied toward ourselves so they can feel what is going on inside us and therefore have an impact on what is going on outside us.

We need to accept our true nature, our natural aversion to unstructured or even chaotic situations. Only then can we show patience to what is going on outside us. Similarly, we need to forgive ourselves for the limits of our patience that compels us to attempt to take control. Without cutting ourselves some slack, we are not likely to show patience. Patience is an act of humility. When we have a modest view of our own importance we are more likely to fit ourselves to what is.

List a few incidences when you experienced some impatience. How might you have handled the situation with more patience and how would that have affected the outcome of the situation?

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