“The opposite of courage is not cowardice. It is conformity.”
Rollo May, existential psychologist, claimed this. I think Mr. May knew what he was talking about. I’ve experienced this to be true. Some of the very hardest things for me have been to trust my instinct and act on a worthy-but-absolutely-not-guaranteed-to-succeed urge. The amount of fear that materializes in that moment between the idea and the act is breathtaking.
In the perceived safety of your mind, you find refuge from the hordes that threaten to dash the hope of your idea on the rocks of public humiliation. Yes, the safety is perceived, not real. For you are taxed for keeping you to yourself. You know this. You feel this as the time between idea and action lengthens. The longer you wait, the heavier you feel. It’s as if the idea liberated in the world is an elixir, the idea held captive by its creator, a poison. A tax, indeed. Toxic, it seems.
You are not your idea. But your idea is a little piece of you. It bares your DNA. It possesses potential.
You are not a coward. You are you. Which is why conformity just won’t do.
It takes courage to assert yourself. It requires faith. You must be willing to be wrong. You must believe you will be okay if you are wrong or if whatever comes to pass isn’t the goodness that you thought would prevail.
Jordan Peterson, also a psychologist and someone familiar with criticism for standing by his convictions, says, “Everyone who remains silent when they have something to say pays for it.” He said this in a conversation with Douglas Murray, author and political commentator, who believes, “If you surround yourself, or are near courageous people, it’s more likely you’ll be courageous yourself.”
True and true.
As for paying the price, I believe you’ll pay either way. Silent or spoken. The question is which price are you better off paying? The cost of keeping your potential under lock and key? Or the cost of bringing your emerging self to the world? Neither are free, though one actually pays off.
As for surrounding yourself with courageous people, are you? Courage is contagious. It’s the kind of thing I’d love to see spread and infect the whole lot of us.
If you must conform, expand to fill the space that’s shaped like you at your fullest.
(This post inspired by the 5th gathering of the Messengers at the Salon in the Roycroft Inn at the Historic Roycroft Campus, November 2, 2023.)