Ever since I watched the Wizard of Oz and the cowardly lion, I have been amazed and curious about courage. I think it is an essential key to moving forward in life. Change and growth sprout from courage, without courage we would be stagnant. “… existentialists believe that to choose the future regularly requires courage. Without courage, one may choose the past regularly, which stagnates the quest for meaning” (Maddi).
I was surprised by the fact that not much has been written about courage as an existential given of existence. Some givens that have been listed are: willingness, freedom, existential anxiety, death, isolation, responsibility, meaning, and choice. With each one, I believe, there is courage needed in some form or another. And like the cowardly lion and these givens, courage is there inside of us without doubt. I have seen this in my clients and know it exists within me as a person and therapist. In order to understand and explain how I applied it to my experience with my client, it is important to state that I believe courage exists within each given.
Willingness is motivation, a reason to begin something. Out of our will come challenges and obstacles. At this point we have the freedom to choose what we will do differently. Maddi mentions how hardiness “emerged as a set of attitudes or beliefs about yourself in interaction with the world around you that provides the courage and motivation to do the hard work of turning stressful changes from potential disasters into opportunities instead."
Freedom can be scary in that it gives us the ability to make any choice or no choice. It takes courage to make sense of freedom and to take advantage of it without going too far. One must remember consequences when enacting freedom.
Death could be the most terrifying given to some. It is the end. It is to be expected. As we choose to decide how we view the inevitability of death it takes courage to learn about it and accept that we all are going to die. It then takes the courage to choose how we will live.
If we are in isolation, it takes courage to step out into the world. It takes courage to feel those feelings of isolation and aloneness. It takes courage to realize we are not the only ones with challenges. Isolation is a way to hide, a way to dwell. It can also be a chance to incubate or immerse. It is the beginning of self-awareness, a kick-start to courage.
Along with choices come responsibilities. We are responsible for our choices, our actions and to take this responsibility requires courage: the courage to admit to what we have done or not done; the courage to make amends; the courage to celebrate who we are and what we believe in; and the courage to do something different.
Making these choices will bring about anxiety especially if we are not sure of the outcome. It takes courage to make the choice into the unknown and through the fear and anxiety. “What is the answer to tolerating the anxiety of uncertainty? … existential courage (i.e., ‘the courage to be’)” (Maddi).
Choosing to be courageous in so many ways fuels the meaning in our lives. This fuel gives us hope, a reason to live, a reason to continue being courageous. When we run up against obstacles in life, it is courage that has us push them out of the way. Courage is what has us bust through fear. Courage is change and growth. Courage is choice.