Walking into the lion’s mouth

Walking into the lion’s mouth

“I will not leave my country and my people” is the powerful voice of many Ukrainians today as they triumph over their fear.

The bravery and resilience of the Ukrainian people, going to unimaginable lengths to protect themselves and their country, is inimitable. We see selfless people who have joined the war as soldiers, Ukrainian mothers taking their children over the borders and returning to help in the fight. We see Russians too taking the risk of imprisonment by speaking out against their regime.

How do some people find the strength to be this brave, to pursue what they see as morally right, and to even risk their lives? It is plain from the Ukrainian plight that courage is not a scarcity as we see people clearly valuing their freedom above their lives. We admire this as we watch on and wonder if we would act in this courageous way.

Do we in the West value courage, and its components – facing fear, taking risk, making decisions that we think to be morally right, persistently – as virtues? Have we let our values slip as we have become more afraid? Or is it because our values have changed that we have become more afraid?

“The most courageous act is still to think for yourself” – Coco Chanel

We have resisted little. Whilst giving into the fruits of capitalism, the alluring soporific stupor of instant gratification, of online everything, we have inadvertently given away or sacrificed our freedoms. We are less in control than we think but not just of our freedom to choose – we are less in control of our brain state and, as a result, less resilient. Increasingly, our micro-fears, including not feeling beautiful or smart enough, not being wealthy enough, not being loved enough, are a parasitical presence in our brains creating the new pandemic of the West – anxiety.

Anxiety is a sign of the times. Trauma, too. In the world of psychology, we are increasingly working with people with traumatic responses, many of which are occurring partly because of our crumbling resilience. How we navigate a crisis or traumatic event depends, in part, on how resilient we are (Bessel van der Kolk, professor of psychiatry at Boston University School of Medicine).

Resilience is the ability to recover from difficult experiences and setbacks, to adapt, move forward and sometimes even experience growth. Courage builds resilience and, in turn, resilience builds courage.

The Ukrainians can be a brilliant inspiration, like others who have courageously spoken up against oppression like William Wilberforce, Harriet Tubman, Abraham Lincoln, Susan B. Anthony, Mahatma Gandhi, Rosa Parks, Martin Luther King, and Malala Yousafzai. All have acted with courage, that indubitable “grace under pressure” (Ernest Hemingway).

Courage seems to be an elusive quality, but it is something we can cultivate, and the more we do, the more we will become masters of our minds and be better equipped to face societal issues. Courage comes from facing challenging situations, from metaphorically walking into the lion’s mouth. And so, instead of avoiding stressful situations, we need to face them more, and even allow ourselves to feel some stress. Too often, we are afraid of feeling bad, but if we endure this bad feeling, we become more able to deal with more challenges.

“Do one thing every day that scares you” – Eleanor Roosevelt

With courage, we learn to “to accept the things we (sic) cannot change; change the things we can; And wisdom to know the difference” (Reinhold Niebuhr).

How can we look at the uncertain future not merely as a source of threats, but also of hope and opportunity? And how might we see risk-taking as justified when in defence of intrinsic values or in the pursuit of worthwhile goals?

“Don’t you know life is like a military campaign? One must serve on watch, another in reconnaissance, another on the front line … So it is for us – each person’s life is a kind of battle, and a long and varied one too. You must keep watch like a soldier and do everything commanded … You have been stationed in a key post, not some lowly place, and not for a short time but for life.” – Epictetus, Discourses, 3.24.31–36

Epictetus was once asked which words would help a person thrive. “Two words should be committed to memory and obeyed,” he said, “persist and resist.”

Each fight, even if somewhat futile, required enormous amounts of courage. Each required resisting the comfort of the status quo and coming to one’s own judgment.

May we have the courage to face misfortune, the courage to face death, the courage to risk ourselves for the sake of others, courage to hold onto our principles, and courage to speak our minds.

By Farah Naz
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Farah Naz is a UK trained Psychotherapist of more than 30 years, and is a Clinical Hypnotherapist, with a special interest in neuroscience. She has worked with thousands of people globally for a range of issues. Farah has trained national organisations, corporate companies, doctors, teachers and health workers on psychological-related issues. Currently, she has an online international practice and a private practice in the Algarve.
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