Why Is Courage Important?

A few months ago, I left the home I loved in Colorado and moved across country to be with my partner.

This was not an easy decision. We had spent years living in separate states because we both had our own work to do before we could be together, and we were both self-aware enough to know it. Moving across the country to live with her meant running headlong into a whole new edge. It meant I would be challenged in a way I never had been before.

And it meant leaving my comfortable Colorado life. It meant leaving the life of a quasi-bachelor who climbed 14ers every other weekend and went snowshoeing in the back woods, and stepping completely into my role as husband and step-father to my partner’s teenage children.

I liked my old life. More to the point, I was comfortable there. My ego liked Colorado because it offered enough surface-level challenges to make me look like a real man, while avoiding the kinds of soul-deep challenges that could shake me to my foundation.

So what did I do? I moved across the country.

And it was hard. It pushed me in new ways. It almost broke me.

And it was glorious. Being with my partner and kids full-time is a joy that eclipses anything I felt at the top of Mount Elbert.

That’s why courage is important. It takes guts to uproot your entire life and walk a path that you know will test you to your core. And it’s also the most rewarding thing you can do.

There are other reasons it’s so critical, as a man, to cultivate courage. In this blog, I’ll tackle a few of them. They are:

– It takes courage to fight against insanity

– it takes courage to live into your calling and take that crucial next step

– Your partner wants (even needs) you to be courageous

Let’s go more in-depth on each reason.

1) It Takes Courage to Fight Against Insanity

Societal Insanity

Regardless of where you are on the political spectrum, it is undeniable that there are strains of insanity running through today’s politics. The alt-right insists that non-white people are less human. The woke left, in a disturbing parallel, is starting to endorse racially segregated spaces in areas like education (Centennial Elementary, a public school in Denver, recently offered a, “Families of Color Playground Night”). Some libertarians insist that we should abolish all government, and Tucker Carlson’s Patriot Purge peddles conspiracy theories to one of the largest audiences in America.

And, of course, extremist groups like Antifa continue to claim that speech they dislike is violence, but actually attacking innocent people is justifiable.

It takes bravery to speak out against insane ideas, whatever their source. Part of this is a byproduct of the fact that we are social animals; writing in the Harvard Business Review, professor of leadership development Manfred F. R. Kets de Vries notes that being courageous is more difficult when your peer group disagrees with your position. “All too often,” he writes, “in these “difficult-to-produce-courage” situations, we succumb to fear, peer pressure, groupthink, or deference to authority figures.”

Today, to speak out is to put your neck on the chopping block for a social media mob that has embraced cancel culture, doxxing, and harassing people who disagree with it. Professors have been fired because they challenged the politics on campus. Jonathan Haidt and Greg Lukianoff document in The Coddling Of the American Mind how campus mobs have stormed university buildings and held administrators hostage.

The rage of the online mob has even extended to minors. Nick Sandmann, a then-junior in high school whose age might have protected him in a more civilized time, became the subject of doxxing, online rage, and even death threats when he was accused of facing down an elderly Native American man.

It takes guts to speak up and risk the consequences. But it is incredibly important. Why? Because bravery can combat our societal impulse to conform.

Solomon Asch was a gifted psychologist who studied conformity in the 1950s. To test the subject’s willingness to conform without the subject knowing what was going on (which would bias their answers), Asch invited each subject to take a “vision test.” The vision test showed the subject a line segment, and then asked them which of 3 other line segments best matched up with the first line’s length.

Source

There were other people allegedly taking the vision test at the same time, and unbeknownst to the subject these men and women were in on the study. Their job was to give the wrong answer (ex. Saying that A was closest in length to the target line) to see how effectively group pressure and the desire to conform could manipulate the subject into giving the wrong answer.

Asch found that subjects conformed to the incorrect group answer about 33% of the time.

What does this mean for society? We are prone to espouse insane ideas (for example, doxxing high schoolers) even if we don’t believe they are right, just because we see our peers doing this. Social media mobs use harassment and canceling to promote conformity, which is even more dangerous because conformity spreads: if everyone you know says the same thing, you’re far more likely to parrot those views.

The solution is to have the guts to call out insanity when you see it. This can help your peers break out of their own insane loops. Asch found that when even one confederate in the study gave the correct answer, conformity lowered dramatically. Instead of agreeing with the group consensus 33% of the time, the subject only agreed 5-10% of the time.

Sometimes all it takes is one person with the courage to call out the self-evidently wrong. If you can do that, it can inspire other people to stand up and do the same.

Personal Insanity

Insanity doesn’t just infest the political landscape. It can show up in the workplace too. And if it starts to creep in to your workplace, having the courage to call it out can be essential to maintaining your passion and motivation at work.

Renowned psychologist and University of Toronto Professor of Psychology Jordan Peterson tells a story of one of his clients, who was being “driven mad” by the insanity at her workplace. As one example, workers exchanged 32 emails trying to come up with a different way to say, “flip charts,” because they thought the word “flip” might be objectionable to Filippinos. The fact that no-one had ever objected to the term, “flip charts” meant that the whole thing was an abject waste of time and energy.

Peterson points out three dangers of letting this kind of insanity affect your workplace:

1) It will warp you until you start to tell yourself you agree with it. This internal tension–between the innate human desire to conform, and what your spirit knows to be true–is bad for the soul.

2) It will demotivate you. It is hard to be excited about a job that prioritizes busywork and timewasting over actually doing things that matter. Or as Peterson puts it, “why should I be slaving away at this job when I’m being pecked to death by morons with stupid rules?”

3) It will make you resentful and irritated.

Spend too long in a bureaucracy that’s governed by insane rules (whether these are being pushed by woke bosses, or the kind of unnecessary and demoralizing policies big corporations are infamous for), and your spark will start to go out.

What’s the solution? Courage. As Peterson says, “you should object at the earliest possible point,” to asinine policies. If your objection is upheld, you’ve made your workplace better. If your objections are consistently not, then having the courage to find a new job can breathe new life into your career.

2) It Takes Courage to Live Into Your Calling

A Leap of Faith

There comes a time on our personal growth journey when we know what the next step is…and it’s off a cliff.

We’ve been walking along, following the path to personal development, and everything’s been going more or less smoothly. There have been a few bumps in the road but nothing we cannot handle.

And then we come to a place where taking one step forward means stepping into the unknown. We don’t know what’s below that cliff edge. All we know is that once we take that leap of faith, in 6 months we won’t even recognize the man we used to be.

This is terrifying for our egos. Our egos seek comfort and conformity, and fear the unknown. They fear transformation, even good transformation. Taking a leap of faith threatens death to our ego, and offers salvation to our spirit.

That’s what I did when I moved across the country to be with my partner and kids. I knew if I made the leap, my life would transform. I would have new challenges and new growth opportunities. I knew that both would hit my ego like a freight train.

Six months in and I wouldn’t even recognize the man I had been.

It takes courage to take the leap. Frankly, the bigger the opportunity on the other side, the more bravery it takes. Our egos can sense the potential for truly transformative change, and they run from it. It takes guts to master our ego and go forward anyway.

So many men reach the point where a leap of faith is what’s required, and they shirk it. They turn back. “Maybe next year,” they tell themselves; or, “I suppose I’m okay with where I am now.”

The leap of faith might be leaving your cushy but soul-numbing job to pursue your passion. Or cultivating a deep relationship with the woman you’re dating but have kept at arms’ length. Or manning up to help your teenage son or daughter through a tough phase of life.

If you take it, the leap will transform you. It will be a defining moment you look back on, a turning point that doubled the size of your life.

And if you don’t take it…you will diminish. Something in your spirit will cry out, even if the cry is muffled.

Taking the leap takes courage. And it is worth it, precisely in accordance to how much courage it takes.

Living Into Your Calling

In his New York Times bestseller Wild At Heart, therapist John Eldredge says that all men crave a battle to fight. We yearn to be tested to our core and to know that we have what it takes.

As men, we were not made for a safe life. For white picket fences and a career pushing paper, where the most adventure and meaning we’ll ever face is a trip to Home Depot to fix our air conditioner.

We were made for adventure. To fight on the front lines of a war between good and evil, and to give everything we have to make the world a better place.

It’s important to note that Eldredge isn’t advocating or criticizing any particular job. You can pursue your calling in an office or as a missionary, at a corporation or at a start-up. Instead Eldredge is criticizing the life of safety and risk-avoidance that so many men fall into because they’re scared to pursue what really matters to them.

Having counseled thousands of men, Eldredge concludes that pursuing your highest calling in life is not safe. It is not a guaranteed home run. It is full of uncertainty, risk, and even danger. It will test you.

And it will be worth it. A life of meaning can feed your soul and light you up in a way that pushing paper does not. A career living into your highest calling can make you excited to step into the office Monday morning.

If you want to be a leader, that too requires courageous action. Every great leader, hell every effective leader, has a bold heart.

In short: living into your highest purpose requires bravery. And it is worth it.

3) It Takes Courage to Be The Man Your Partner Dreams Of

I’ve counseled hundreds of married men over the past 20 years, and one thing I’ve seen over and over is this:

Your woman wants you to be courageous.

Our women want to know that they can trust us, that we will protect them if push comes to shove. That we have what it takes to stand up against threats and keep them safe.

Few strong women want a weak or a hesitant man. Few women want a man who will walk on eggshells around them, or who bends to adversity like a reed in the wind.

As one example, most women crave a man who can handle her emotions. If you duck and cover when she’s angry, she’ll start to wonder how you’ll react when actual danger or hardship threatens. By contrast, if you can handle her anger, she’ll often feel safer around you.

This doesn’t mean that you should ignore her feelings or start yelling at her. Nor does it mean that you should put up with a woman flaying the skin off of you when she’s mad. But handling her emotions with calm strength and groundedness is a hell of a lot better than cowering or getting angry.

In his book The Way of the Superior Man, internationally renowned spiritual teacher David Deida says of women that, “She wants the “Killer” in you.” Deida points out that if you’re asleep together and you hear a noise in the kitchen, your wife will not be impressed if you curl up in bed and ask her to deal with it. She wants you to have the courage to go investigate the sound and deal with whoever made it–be it a rat in the cupboards or a thief sneaking through the window.

Most women want to know their man has what it takes to protect them. That means they want a man with courage.

Building Courage In Your Own Life

At The Antifragile Man, we help men develop and hone their courage. Bravery is the antidote to a small life, and we’ve helped hundreds of men find the bravery to live into their purpose and be the man they aspire to be.

If you feel:

– Like a badass at work, but whipped at home

– Like you’re facing a situation that requires a leap of faith, and you’re scared to take it 

– Stifled by the insanity of your workplace, but not sure how to stand up to it and keep your job

– Drowning in all the words you’ve never said, the jumps you’ve never taken, the stands you’ve never held that your Spirit knew were right

We can help. We offer one-on-one men’s coaching to help you develop into the strong, grounded man you aspire to be. If that’s of interest to you, reach out today.

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1 Comment

  1. Great article Mark! It really does require courage to overcome our ego, which are constantly fed with fear and expectation. Deep down, we know what we desire and know what feel right, it just takes lots of courage to peel back the ego.
    I also support your views on ‘what women want’. The modern man is expected to have ever greater access to their feminine side by being sensitive, caring, loving, emotionally engaged etc. etc. But having access to the feminine is not an excuse to ignore the masculine side – of which courage, is a core component

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