The Courage to Believe Something Good Is Possible
I’ve been amazed and moved by recent stories on the news about the courageous Ukrainian people who’ve been out in the streets protesting as Russian troops amass at their borders. The people hold signs, they chant, and they sing. There are tanks and guns and missiles on one side, and on the other are handmade signs, righteous anger, determination, and singing. Rocket launchers…cardboard and songs.
From this distance, I am astonished and moved by the courage of these people. They remind me how important it is to come forward when something essential is at risk; how important it is to choose to side with love when something brutal and harmful is at your door. Years ago in Anti-Defamation League training I learned that it’s critically important to confront oppressive bullies right away—whether the issue is anti-semitism, racism, homophobia, xenophobia, sexism, transphobia, or anything else. It’s important to confront any words or actions that seek to diminish another person or group of people immediately, at the first insult, the first slur, the first “joke.” There’s a line between acceptable and unacceptable and we need to keep that line very clear.
It’s also really important to offer something as a positive, attractive, compelling alternative. Bullies appeal to people’s fear. They offer a false promise of strength and safety “over here.” They prey on a sense of “us and them” to gain followers that help make themselves feel strong and powerful. So it’s important to interrupt that story and tell a different one. A better one. A more hopeful, more inspiring, more positive story. It’s so important that the brutal story isn’t the only story for people to choose.
The poet Mark Nepo reminds us that the word courage comes from the Latin cour, or heart, and that courage is a condition of the heart, a condition of love. He says that to be courageous in the world we have to practice being courageous in our own hearts and minds.
Inner courage begins in the smallest of ways when we pay attention and don’t turn away. Courage is having enough love to accept yourself despite not fitting someone else’s story about what’s proper, right, and good. This might seem obvious and straightforward, it might even seem easy. But it’s not.
Courage is paying attention when the whole world is trying to distract you.
Courage is believing in yourself and your experience despite what others are telling you.
Courage is loving yourself so fiercely that you won’t give up.
Courage requires taking the risk of facing your most terrifying fears and listening to what they have to tell you. Once you do that, you discover that the door of the prison isn’t locked and that you can liberate your inner self. But first, you have to acknowledge your own experience, and then hold it close, then act on it.
Unitarian Universalists believe that it’s essential that we exercise our power to choose. Even when we have a limited spectrum of choices, we can always choose to act out of love and with compassion for ourselves and others. We can choose to let go of anger and revenge and instead focus on ways to add to the common good. We can begin by believing that something good could be possible, even amid the most dire circumstances.