June 15, 2022

3 (More) Types of Courage that can help us Master whatever Sh*t Life throws our Way.


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This article is part of a series. To read part one, click here

Last week, I published the first part of this article that goes over the six types of courage and how we need to nail them in order to lead a fulfilling life.

From the three I analyzed so far—physical courage, social courage, and moral courage—I know I have some work to do.

I know that I need to be more physically courageous, but I’m doing really well with my social courage. When it comes to moral courage, I’m okay for the most part, except for those moments where I can become a bit of a self-righteous prig when it comes to having expectations of others and judging folks when they don’t measure up.

I’m a work in progress but I’m glad I’ve taken this step head-on.

Let’s move on to the remaining three: emotional courage, intellectual courage, and spiritual courage.

Emotional Courage

My mom used to tell me that I could never hide anything: what I felt is exactly what showed on my face. And with the swagger of youth, I never cared. I felt that it was courageous of me to show my feelings without any filters whatsoever. And when we’re young, being emotional and showing that side of ourselves is welcomed. But as we age, I see a definite sense of unease in people when they face someone who is older and still emotional. This was a big realization for me as I dealt with the aftermath of my tragic loss in December 2020.

I also think that there are two distinct sides to emotional courage. One side requires us to be emotionally expressive and resilient. I think I have that in spades. I’m a true-blue Scorpio who feels everything deeply. I love hard and I sting even harder. I don’t forgive or forget easily. Scorpios are also deeply passionate; I’ve never had issues taking up for the right causes and fighting the good fight. I also have no ego when I’ve done something wrong, and I apologize immediately when I’ve goofed up. I firmly believe that it’s extremely courageous to ask for help. I prefer to go to an expert to help me navigate a world that I’m not equipped to handle, so when life and loss and grief got to be too much, I sought advice from a therapist. And, by God, it helped me.

Post-December 2020, when my overtly emotional self started to make others uncomfortable, I began to pull back. I don’t consider this to be emotionally cowardly, but instead see it as accepting the fact that not everyone can deal with emotions the right way and I’d rather not make them feel uncomfortable.

But the flip side of feeling so deeply is that I’m also petrified of rejection. There are many relationships and friendships I’ve let go of simply because the fear of being rejected has made me opt for a simpler option. And when those I let go of made no effort to fight for me, it reaffirmed my belief (right or wrong) that they really didn’t care enough for me anyway. This allowed me to justify to myself that letting go was the right choice.

I genuinely have no idea if I’m emotionally courageous or not. And I’m okay with that. I am where I am on the emotional courage spectrum, and I’m learning to live with it.

Intellectual Courage

I have a double master’s and a PhD. Enough said, no?

Just kidding. But not really. Intellectual courage as a concept is not something I’ve consciously thought about before. And despite my academic pedigree, I’m genuinely not sure why I have a double master’s and a doctorate. I’m not sure if I went on this path thinking these degrees would serve as an example of my being intellectually courageous, or simply because I felt it would help me with my future career. But the fact is, I did it and did it well.

While I spent my 20s being judgmental about those who thought differently than me, age and wisdom and life’s many knockdowns have taught me not to be so quick to assume. Today, I can proudly say that I have as many friends who are on the opposite end of the political spectrum from me as I have from my side. I am pro-choice while some of my friends are pro-life. But we are still able to have respectful conversations.

Over the years, I’ve realized that intellectual courage is more than being able to read and having degrees from colleges. It’s about being able to live life and experience it in all its myriad challenges. It’s about being able to understand a multitude of mindsets and analyze the reasons behind people’s behavior. My various travels all over the world—on my own—have opened me up to why people make the choices they do. As much as I believe that no child should ever have to work, seeing conditions in many parts of the world where it’s either “kids work or they die,” I’ve had to rethink being so rigid with my opinions.

One of the most important quotes we learn in international relations is, “One man’s terrorist is another man’s freedom fighter.” Intellectual courage is not just about standing up for what’s right but also about understanding and questioning what we think is right. Perspective is important. What works in a Western country will not work elsewhere. Is a woman who wears short skirts, drives a car, and has relationships outside the boundaries of marriage more “forward-moving” than someone who wears a burka or a chador and has an arranged marriage?

Bottom line: it takes intellectual courage to say, “I don’t have all the answers. And what is right from my perspective may not be right from someone else’s perspective.” My degrees have helped me, for sure, but it’s life and traveling and meeting people from different cultures that has taught me to look beyond my narrow vision of what the world should be and accept life in all its glorious hues.

Spiritual Courage

I’ve heard that some of the most spiritual people are scientists. How is it that practitioners of science—the folks who believe in 2+2 = 4, where everything has to make sense and has to be proven for it to be true—believe in the unknown? I think it’s because while they’re solid in their scientific theories, they also allow for the belief that not everything that exists on this planet has (or can have) a scientific explanation. They’re gracious enough to allow for the things that don’t make sense.

I think the most spiritual people are also those who don’t believe the “it’s my way or the highway” idea. I’m a practicing Hindu who constantly grapples with the concept of God and finds myself living life more as an agnostic. But in the years that I lived in the U.S., I’d go to my local Presbyterian church almost every Sunday and many days during the week for bible class. Learning about Christianity and praying to Jesus never made me a lesser Hindu. Living as I did, in a town where there were no Hindu temples, going to church and praying to a God—any God—just gave me peace of mind.

I’m also deeply interested in atheism and have at least three good friends who are atheists. I believe that if there is a God, there is just one God and it doesn’t matter how we get to him/her. If someone believes there is no God, it’s fine by me as well. And if there is a God out there, then that God would appreciate those who question his/her existence. That’s why he/she gave us free will and a brain and the ability to think.

When it comes to these final three types of courage, I think I’m doing pretty well. I do tend to pull back and be less emotionally expressive now because my emotional courage doesn’t necessarily translate to others’ comfort. But with intellectual and spiritual courage, I’m doing better than I hoped.

So, final tally:

I suck at physical courage, am too emotional for emotional courage (too much of a good thing, I guess), and can be a bit of a Judgy Judy with my moralistic courage. But when it comes to social, intellectual, and spiritual courage, I’d say I’m nailing it.

What about you all? Where are you on this spectrum? Comment here and let me know!


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