School starts this week, so I thought it would be a good time to write about courage. For many years, when I thought of bravery, I thought of one thing: firemen. There is no question that firemen are brave. Every day, in the line of duty, firemen go out and risk their lives to save others. Firemen do not run away from challenges. Actually, they do quite the opposite. They run toward them. As we approach the tenth anniversary of 9/11, thank goodness for the bravery of firefighters.
But despite my automatic default to firemen, they are not the only people who are brave. We witness acts of courage all around us every day. People who face their fears, or who are willing to take a stand even when it is not popular, act bravely.
For some people this is harder than others. My mother tells me that when I was a child I would walk around a swimming pool three or four times before considering getting in. Once I convinced myself that the pool was probably okay, I would put my feet on the shallowest step and stand there for a few minutes getting comfortable. I wasn’t a big fan of risk. My actions might have prevented me from doing something foolhardy, but they were also proof that I was not particularly courageous.
At the beginning of every school year, we ask students to be brave in many ways. Most obviously, students who are going to new schools will face new environments, new teachers and new peers. Yet, contemplating all of this beforehand has the potential to make a person nervous. Sometimes a new place feels as scary as the jaws of a crocodile. But, when you declare yourself brave you realize you can take on the crocodile, no problem! Harness your anxiety and turn it into excitement. Once you are courageous, the thing that seemed daunting becomes an adventure.
Even students who are not going to new schools need to be brave. The safety and security of a familiar place and familiar faces does not preclude new challenges. Taking on harder work and learning to stand by your convictions takes courage and develops it. This is particularly true for students who haven’t had an “easy ride.” A+ students may need some courage to face the next math class, but students who have been fighting to keep up the whole way are the ones who really earn my respect. It’s not so hard to go back to school when you suspect it is going to be fun, or at least ok. But when “school is not your thing,” and you know you will be staring down a new and seemingly more daunting English teacher, crossing the threshold that first day requires even more courage than it does for most. Each time we succeed, it becomes easier to muster more courage for the next challenge. For students who have struggled, the fact that they continue to brave the classroom is, in itself, an important victory for them and their development.
Nowadays when I go swimming, I don’t walk around the pool three times. Usually, I jump right in. But with every step I made circling the pool and standing in the shallow water, I became more intrepid. Courageousness is a requirement in adult life. We may not all be firefighters, but we can’t shrink from challenges and we must learn to stand by our convictions. As students head back to school this week, remember it is not just what you learn about Abraham Lincoln or electricity that will serve you in life.
In fact, every time you take a risk, whether asking or answering a question, doing a homework assignment or taking a test, you become a little bit more courageous. Students—don’t walk around the swimming pool this first week of school. Jump in. Raise your hand. Be brave!
Ultimately knowing all the facts is not what will make you into a more plucky or thoughtful adult. However, learning to face challenges, seize opportunities and act bravely in the face of these situations is one of the best ways school will help prepare you for a responsible adult life.
Brave Firemen courtesy of Marion Doss
Standing in Shallow Water courtesy of elvissa
The Jaws of a Crocodile courtesy of Hiking Artist
Raise Your Hand!! courtesy of woodleywonderworks