What is courage? There are many ways to define courage. Some definitions I have come across include “strength in the face of pain or grief” and “the ability to do something that you know is difficult or dangerous”. Mark Twain has written, “Courage is not the absence of fear. It is acting in spite of it.” The word courage originates from the Latin word “cor” which means “heart” and is more recently linked to the French word for heart, “le couer”, derived from Latin.
While we commonly think of courage as the absence of fear and the performance of grand-scale acts of heroism, there is another way to think about courage. When we reflect on our history as a gender and our personal histories, we can recognize that women have always had to act in the face of fear and danger. Whether living in the context of societal sexism, the intimate danger of domestic violence or the personal danger to her family of poverty and illness, there is no woman who has made it to her older years without being courageous.
So what does courage look like in the lives of ordinary older women? Courage in the lives of most women does not look like the heroic acts of bravery presented in myths, books, and films. Instead, courage is the woman who takes care of an ill partner until she is no longer capable of doing so—and usually long past the time that would make sense to others to get assistance in caring for her loved one. Courage is meeting the day-to-day challenges of being a single mother. It is fighting sexism—not accepting being treated as second-class citizens in the workplace or society at large. Courage in the lives of everyday women can be overcoming the impact of sexual violence, transcending dysfunctional family patterns that have continued for generations and getting the education to actualize one’s potentials as a human being.
Those around us may recognize our courage when we ourselves do not believe we have courage at all. Why is there this discrepancy in our perceptions of ourselves and others perceptions of us? Many women believe that courage is a quality others have, not a trait we ourselves embody. Ironically, it actually requires courage to revise our limited and erroneous perceptions of ourselves! Let’s explore what courage means in our own lives.
- What is your definition of courage? What are situations in which you have you acted courageously according to your own definition of the term?
- Name a few examples of “everyday courage” you have experienced or witnessed in other women over the years. What women have you most admired?
- What difficult or painful life circumstances have you survived and how did you survive them? What were some of your “courageous acts” in transcending these difficulties?
- As our discussion progresses, are you able to identify courageous acts or collective actions you have participated in to survive difficult situations or create needed change?
- What are your thoughts on courage now as a result of this discussion?