On my trip to DC, I ended up rooming with a wonderful lady who I came to know as a real kindred spirit. Her vision is so rooted in love, I was inspired by her kindness and compassion, and the humanity and humility of her daily struggles. She brought new perspectives to me and broadened ones I already had. We spoke of what our purpose is and how we best impact the world around us. She shared with me what I thought to be a great act of courage - she spoke against a good friend's negative and damning religious views. I wondered if I could be so courageous.
While touring the Capital Building, we saw numerous depictions of courageous people including the recently unveiled statue of Rosa Parks, now among great people and presidents in the nation's Capital Building. I was overwhelmed with awe by the courage of this one woman who, quite literally, took a stand by simply sitting down and refusing to move. Shortly after, I was at the Library of Congress and was discussing this reaction I had with one of the employees who happened to be African American; I told her how emotional I became when I saw this wonderful honor showed to Rosa Parks. She looked genuinely shocked and asked why. I told her, when I look at Rosa Parks I see her as a symbol of such incredible strength and courage; she was one person (just like her and me!) who chose to say "no more", even while knowing the possible negative personal consequences of her actions; she spoke for all those who needed to be spoken for. That sort of courage is something I am searching for in my own self. I think the woman may have been shocked that a white woman was so moved but, as I opened up, we shared a moment of unity in admiration of the display of one single woman who showed such incredible humanity and courage.
Courage is about doing what is not easy; doing what some are reluctant to do because of the possible negative consequences. But when courage is rooted in love, it bring a light to the world like no other. Compassion is courageous. We were a large group traveling with 18 kids the ages of 10 and 11 and they could be pretty scattered! I observed some people who were clearly on a path to get where they needed to get, regardless of what they had to do to get it. But most people we encountered were kind, courteous, and not just a little compassionate. I mean, they weren't pulling children from burning buildings or donating a kidney, but they chose a higher form of thinking: kindness and compassion. These actions fuel the greater good that includes all of us. In opposition is intolerance, impatience, and unkindness which serves one: the individual ego. Each of those small acts of those individual persons added up to a create a better - more compassionate - world to live in.
During our magnificent trip, my new friend shared with me this wonderful quote. It is by Marianne Williamson from her book A Return To Love: Reflections on the Principles of A Course in Miracles:
“Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure. It is our light, not our darkness that most frightens us. We ask ourselves, ‘Who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, talented, fabulous?’ Actually, who are you not to be? You are a child of God. Your playing small does not serve the world. There is nothing enlightened about shrinking so that other people won't feel insecure around you. We are all meant to shine, as children do. We were born to make manifest the glory of God that is within us. It's not just in some of us; it's in everyone. And as we let our own light shine, we unconsciously give other people permission to do the same. As we are liberated from our own fear, our presence automatically liberates others.”
Courage isn't about being better than others; it is about taking the chance of being the best you are and, by doing so, affording others the inspiration to do the same. Olympic gold medalists aren’t great because they beat everyone else; they’re great because they are an example of what hard work and determination can accomplish; that a personal best, above all else, is possible.
Another great quote my friend shared with me:
“The mediocre teacher tells. The good teacher explains. The superior teacher demonstrates. The great teacher inspires.” ~William Arthur Ward
Being courageous, being the best “you” you can be, that is what inspires. This is applicable on so many levels. From day to day contact with others, to how we lead our children as parents, to how we influence those we work with. But, as I said to one of the kids on our trip who was often leading some of the other boys down a dark path: "You are a great leader, I can see that by how others listen to you. You are a very important person; never think that you're not because you really, really are! And what you do, matters. You may think "I'm just a 10 year old kid", but you influence others in everything you do. And that's a wonderful thing! But just be aware of how you want to be that influence; do you want to use it for the power of good or of the power of evil." At first he seemed reluctant to listen but at the end, I could see in his eyes, he was thinking about it. He smiled and nodded his head and then got back in line. Did he hear me? I don't know. But knowing that we are important and influence our surroundings can be incredibly empowering.
The whole trip was full of great examples of courageous people; Washington, Lincoln, MLK, Rosa Parks, just to name a few. They are great because they acted in courage - they had faith - that proved to benefit the greater good. But courage requires a leap of faith. I recently learned that when Martin Luther King Jr. received the call about Rosa Parks and was asked to speak on her behalf, his first reaction was (as I understand it) "Let me think about it." The next morning he called up and said "What do you need me to do." Sometimes courage doesn't come in an instant. Sometimes, like Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemane, we must ask, is this really what I must do? Courage comes in many forms and in different times.
As I discussed with my friend, we are all moving in the same direction. And there is only one relevant direction: forward. But each of us has to either consciously or subconsciously decide how to live our lives. Do we live quietly and think "The suffering of others has nothing to do with me" or do we take that first step of faith and decide to create a world where we are courageously kind, compassionate, and loving? I hope to be influenced by these great leaders and the everyday humble and kind - both show inspiring elements of courage. And, through these great inspirations, perhaps I too can inspire another person to live courageously in love and compassion.