Reality Check: The “En” and “Dis” of Courage

In Take Charge of Your Life, Dr. William Glasser lists seven relationship-building habits. One of those habits—encouragement—has popped up in these columns numerous times over the years.
Notice how “en-courage” and “dis-courage” both involve “courage.” One increases courage; the other decreases courage.
You might picture courage as fire fighters entering burning buildings or police running toward the sound of shooting. Fortunately, life is not all burning buildings and gunfights. While other situations may not require those levels of courage, ordinary events can require courage too.
For example, you may have witnessed courage when a person who doesn’t normally speak in public comes up to the microphone in a public meeting and says her piece. How about when you realize that your opinion is different than the consensus of a work group, your family, or the prevailing culture? Have you ever had to steel yourself before making a difficult phone call or telling a friend, “I don’t agree”?
It can take courage to speak and act. And it can take courage to remain silent or refrain from acting. In some cases, it takes courage just to live another day, doing the best that we can.
To en-courage, that is, to help someone build courage, is a genuinely helpful act.
You may be thinking, but what if I believe (or know) that someone is wrong? I wouldn’t want to encourage that!
It’s true that in some cases, we have more insight, information, perhaps even more wisdom than someone else. How can we encourage and not trample on someone’s dreams or beliefs?
For example, Rick has set his sights on a career as a personal trainer. He loves physical fitness, loves people, and he’s eager. However, his academic skills—reading, writing, basic math—are lacking. You believe it’s impossible for him to succeed. As Rick’s friend, should you encourage him?
It’s an interesting question. We don’t necessarily know someone’s potential or what they can accomplish through determination.
That said, slapping Rick’s back and saying “Rah! Rah! You can do it,” is both dishonest and disrespectful if that’s not what you believe.
If you choose to discuss this with Rick, first ask him if he wants your opinion. If he says “No thanks,” accept that. You have your answer.
If Rick does want your opinion, then it could be helpful to use a perspective of courage. That is, “Will my information help Rick build courage and become more capable? Or will it destroy courage and weaken him?”
One honest statement is, “Rick, I don’t know if this is a good career for you or not. Do you have the information you need? Can I help with that?”
Is that unrealistic encouragement? I don’t think so. You’re simply providing information. When Rick understands what’s required, it’ll be his choice as to whether he carries on or changes course.
Regardless of what Rick decides, helping him build courage—even if it’s just the courage to look for information—is an encouraging act.
If you are torn about how or whether to encourage, try this perspective: Am I helping this person grow the courage they need to make the choices they need to make?
Do you see courage as part of encouraging and discouraging? Is discouragement a reflection of reduced courage?

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