The True Definition of Courage
By: Lauren Peffley
Healing Action Program Coordinator
The word “courage” was originally defined as follows: “To speak one’s mind by telling all one’s heart” (Brene Brown, The Gifts of Imperfection, p. 12). Brene Brown goes on to point out that “we’ve lost touch with the idea that speaking honestly and openly about who we are, about what we’re feeling, and about our experiences (good & bad) is the definition of courage” (Brown, p. 13). These words struck a chord deep within me. Initially, I was surprised to learn the true definition of the word courage, but the more I thought about it, the more sense it made. It IS courageous to tell your story! And unfortunately, this breed of bravery is quite rare.
Upon learning the origin of this important word, I vowed to go forth being open, honest, and courageous every single day. I have a story worth telling and so do you. I choose to move forward and reframe this word as often as possible, so that others may also realize the courage inside them! Open. Honest. Vulnerable. Courageous. Beautiful! I know several beautifully courageous individuals, and I count myself so incredibly lucky to work with two of them. I am so honored to read/hear the stories of survivors and inspired to behold such courage! It takes so much strength to expose painful parts of your past, and far too often that strength goes unnoticed and unappreciated.
The next time you hear the story of a survivor (of any type of trauma or hardship), I encourage you to acknowledge the courageous act of sharing that story. Simply saying, “Thank you for sharing that with me. That was incredibly brave,” could really make a difference to someone who has perhaps never felt truly heard and beautifully brave before. Don’t feel the need to wax poetic or make statements about how much you understand a situation that you may not understand in the slightest. Listen intently for as long as the story takes, and don’t push for further information if the story is cut short. Listen, acknowledge the strength it takes to be so open, and honor that survivor by keeping their words confidential. You should never tell a story that is not yours to share – no matter what cause you think it might advance. We should all probably make a point to listen more than we talk, and never forget that each person we meet has a story worth hearing.
These lessons have been important to me for some time, but they have become imperative to me now that I work with survivors of sexual assault through the YWCA’s Sexual Assault Response Team and will be working with survivors of commercial sexual exploitation here at Healing Action. I see courage everywhere I turn, and it is a goal of mine to acknowledge and honor that courage with lifelong service. I know that oppression and exploitation separate and isolate, but I also know that there is power in solidarity, power in peer support, and there is power in telling your whole story with your whole heart. Healing Action offers that solidarity and peer support. We are here to hear your stories and commend your courage.
Inspired and honored to bear witness to so much strength and courage,
“The Gifts of Imperfection: Let Go of Who You Think You’re Supposed to Be and Embrace Who You Are” by Brene Brown (2010).
“Strength, Courage, & Wisdom” by India.Arie