Courage – what it means to a writer?

Nowadays, most people can claim to be writers. Not that most people do; it’s just that most people can. Your coworker, your uncle, your unborn child – all are capable of having webspace. And all are capable of pushing their thoughts out for the masses to read and evaluate. We know that in the past, there was a definitive gatekeeper; someone who kept that barrier from being breached. But, today? Not so much. That’s why when I hear someone say, “I have this story idea. I think I’m going to write about it and get it published,” I can’t help but cringe a little. Not because I feel the sting of competition – I just cringe because this person has unknowingly entered into an agreement that is not what they think. Writing a bunch of thoughts down is easy. Writing a book is hard.

Generally speaking, someone’s perception of something can be lightyears from the truth. Experiencing a vision is much different than merely gazing upon that vision. That’s why when I hear those words, I don’t get angry, frustrated, or anxious – I just wonder what that person perceives as “being a writer.”

For example, I’ll be 30 this month. I’m in pretty good physical health, but if I were to tell someone, “Yeah, I’m thinking of taking up karate. World black belt champion sounds fun so I’m gonna do that” – people would probably think I’m crazy. Sure, I could do karate and work towards becoming a world class black belt, but do I possess the personal conviction to do it? Is it in my heart to work towards that goal? More than likely, there are years of practice, years of dedication, and years of failures ahead if I want that distinction. It simply won’t happen overnight. And yet, I feel like that’s what has happened to “being a writer” – we’ve seen or read stories of people who had popular blogs and we think a stellar book deal is easily achievable. Or rather, we think it’s easy because everyone is writing. Everyone has a voice somewhere. Everyone has a platform.

So, from the outside-looking-in, the logical question becomes: “Why not me? That looks easy enough….”

I don’t fault anyone for thinking that. Who am I to judge if someone has a killer idea for a story? But, in some ways, I feel like the courage associated with following that killer idea – the perception of what it takes to become an established writer – has been forgotten. And the only way someone will be recognized for having “made it” is when hashtags begin trending about their book idea. Obviously, a hashtag is not a sign of “making it”, so what is? Is that something an aspiring writer should be concerned about? Is this the only part of writing that’s “courageous” anymore – to have made it commercially or financially? People can get their 15 minutes of fame for a popular book, but is that all anyone should be after?

Well, that may all depend on what your perception of success is – a concept that’s difficult to pin down if you’re afraid of what success looks like to you. As a person who has been self-published, entered numerous writing competitions, and been freelancing for several years, the decision to be a writer was a hard one. It wasn’t as simple as creating a new Facebook page. What’s behind me, I see as a success. What’s in front of me, I see as more opportunities for success. But, success is relative without courage. And courage is relative without joy upon completion, which is truly what any writer should be after: joy. Consider who has more joy – the person who gets 15 minutes of fame for a popular, yet fleeting idea? Or the one who toils, working hard for years to master a craft that is long-standing and definitive of the voice and resolve he’s carried with him for a job well done?

The answer to that question – the person who can claim to be a writer –  is the one backed by their courage.

Courage – under whose authority?

Today’s world has trouble defining courage, but it has just as hard a time defining authority.

Mine was defined at home. When I was growing up, I learned to have a respect / fear of my father. He was the man in charge; the king of the household; the last line of defense at home. Essentially, he was the disciplinarian. His word was law and if I abided by his law, then I could live peacefully under his roof. That sounds fair enough, right? My mother had authority too, but it was a different kind of authority. She was more the hand to hold; the warm embrace; the ear to lend your voice to – she was the lifeline. And if I came to her with an issue that needed comforting, I could live more peacefully under her roof. Once again, sounds like a fair enough arrangement, right? Yes, it does – when things are running like they’re supposed to.

But, what if they’re not? The result looks much different. If my father’s law is skewed and his discipline unjust, then I feel the ramifications. If my mother’s lifeline is damaged or absent, then I feel the ramifications there too. And the consequences look like this: my idea of authority has been crushed. Moreover, my idea of a loving authority has been shattered. For if the people who made me – the ones who watch over me daily – can’t handle their own business, then what right do they have to govern mine?

And this is where it starts. That disillusionment with authority; that break from looking up to people and the conscious/unconscious decision to look elsewhere for guidance. Because let’s be honest, everybody’s parents mess up at some point – there are no “perfect parents” in the world; as good as mine were and are, they still had their bad days. So depending on how “bad” a parent messes up, the more work it’ll be for the child later. The more work it’ll be to fix the now disjointed views of a child who, after years of soaking in the brokenness of a broken home, has fractured more than than their view of parental-child relationships – they’ve fractured the very nature of how the world was meant to operate.

Whoa – back up, right? That sounds like a lot of pressure for a parent. But hey, let’s not forget – it’s a human life we are talking about; not a truck or a vacuum sweeper. These things, when fractured, can be easily replaced. The same cannot be said for a human life.

But, here’s the good news: fractures are mendable things. A fractured bone, for example, doesn’t have to stay that way. In fact, a broken bone will do whatever it can to get back to its original state. The only thing it requires is time; time to heal and time to mend. However, if the bone is disturbed too early, then it may become further disjointed and take even more time to heal – a more painful experience than the first.

This becomes even more delicate when dealing with authority. Bad experiences with authority figures can leave a person severely jaded; stricken with little desire to trust authority ever again. And the thought of ever being “ruled” by another is seen as detestable; to be avoided at all costs. So, in order to cope with this, a peer-to-peer kind of authority is established. “You don’t tell me how to live and I won’t tell you either” is the new mantra. And if we abide by these rules, we can all live peacefully under the same roof.

Yet again, this sounds reasonable and fair, doesn’t it? It does and yet, this concept breaks down rather quickly. For if there is no one to lead, no one to establish what is best practice, then the roof ceases to exist. What’s more, one person’s idea of best practice will inevitably collide with someone else’s. And another with another. And another with another and so on. The result being the exact opposite of the original intent; the individual’s desire to be more important than the whole splits everything into pieces, which will leave people feeling isolated rather than unified.

So what to do? Well, it takes courage. Not just courage to lead, but courage not to follow. And the “not to follow” does not mean to reject authority – it merely means to reject the notion of authority being a bad thing and to reject your own perceptions as being the ultimate reality. Children reject authority because they want to have their way all the time. As adults, this concept should be understood as not practical. Or better yet, not fulfilling. But, by today’s standards, embracing this understanding has been forgotten. God’s governing hand is only relative and as long as I can Google an answer, I’m better off. No, Googling answers does not require courage. Neither do blanket comments or fact-dumping. Courage is carving in stone, not writing in sand.

Imagine a home where your stay is just and your stay is kind. It’d be a joyous home, would it not? Not the kind of place you’d want to leave. But, you can’t get to that place without first having a response – to recognize there is more to be courageous about than your own agendas.

Sounds reasonable and fair, does it not?

Courage – what does it look like?

Last month I focused in on joy. What brings someone joy? What doesn’t? People will spend a good deal of their day – and life – trying to attach themselves to what makes them happy, but never really get to that point of joy. I wanted to examine that further and for the most part, I did. But, I was also a bit distracted last month. In a good way though – I got married.

You might say that I have plenty to be joyous about. Wedding, honeymoon, beginning life with a best friend – yes, these are all awesome things. Daunting, but exciting and a great transition into the topic this month: courage.

It’s a hard term to define nowadays. What is courage? What does courage even look like? Ask someone 80 – 100 years ago and courage may look like defending one’s country or feeding the mouths of the hungry; a black and white concept with immediate results. Ask someone from 50-60 years ago and courage takes a new form: inaction becomes mistaken for action and calls to war separate people rather than bringing them together. Flash forward to the present and the image of courage is even more skewed; less clear and murkier than ever. In fact, courage now looks like this: sitting at home, “knowing what’s wrong with the world”, yet possessing neither the fortitude nor the incentive to act on the wrongness we feel. This new courage is all about hiding – the complete opposite of what the word means. The 21st century “warrior” builds barriers around one’s self, makes more money than his neighbor, and leads as comfortable an existence as possible.

Don’t believe me? Consider the protagonists of today’s popular stories and movies. And like it or not, the stories we are willing to indulge ourselves in – the stories we pay attention to – help define what is worthy of being called, courageous. On one side, there is the unattainable image: the perfect mate who never wrongs you or the impossibly-shaped supermodel made only for you. Neither persona exists as a whole – sorry. But then, you have the other extreme: the slacker; the privileged fool; the self-entitled comedian. All of which can exist, but share none of the qualities with being “courageous.” And with such opposite ideals flying around, people may find themselves struggling to achieve one of the two; thinking if one cannot be attained, then the other must be what he or she is meant for.

For example:

“If I can’t be the hero, then I can definitely be the slacker who will eventually get his day.”

“If I can’t be funny or land that awesome job, then I’ll work hard to get that perfect soul mate to make my life complete.”

These may not sound like actual statements, but through a person’s actions, we can observe where these unconscious agreements have become conscious reality.

I find myself severely convicted by this growing trend. More than in recent years. Maybe it’s because I’m getting older, maybe it’s because I just got married, or maybe it’s just because it’s always ticked me off – for whatever the reason, I burn with the foreboding sense that courage is a trait most men – and women – will never understand. Not until we make the effort to reevaluate courage will we see the difference. And courage is not always about getting recognized; it’s about the willingness to face and fight battles we’d normally run away from. Confronting an abusive relationship, not giving into despair and depression, acting on a civil injustice rather than standing idly by, etc. The list goes on…. Courage isn’t about having a grand stage; it’s about growth.

My most recent of reads, Killing Lions, by John and Sam Eldredge, strives to showcase the lack of courage our society faces and honestly, I agree with them. Not because I’m a crotchety old soul who hates fun – it’s because the epidemic is true. The world is in need of more courageous men and women. And that doesn’t mean more rich people, more ultra-successful entrepreneurs or people who get elevated to a top management position. It’s about daily living that isn’t racked by fear, but moved with a sense that the world is messy and in need of those willing to get their hands dirty and clean it up.