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The Courage of Tears

The Essence of Courage

Courage is not the absence of fear, but the will to take action in spite of it. Fear is primal and natural, useful and healthy. Courage is virtuous and human.

Courage Illustrated

If you have no fear response, something is neurologically wrong with you. If you deny your fear response, something is psychologically wrong with you. If, however, you listen to your fear response, acknowledge it, and wisely respond to it, you are healthy and well-adjusted.

The same is true of sadness. Being sad, feeling emotional pain is a healthy response to loss, grief, rejection, etc.

If, for example, you were to suddenly lose a leg in an accident, and you weren’t sad about it, there would be something deeply wrong with you. If you would deny your sadness, suppress it, repress it, cover it up, or pretend like it’s not there, likewise, there would be something seriously wrong with you.

The healthy, well-adjusted response would be to allow yourself to feel your sadness, grief, sense of loss, and anguish; acknowledge and express these feelings in ways that are not harmful to yourself or others; and reach out for the support of friends, family, and (if necessary) professionals to help you on your journey of recovery from traumatic loss and grief.

This is a practical illustration of a principle that can be applied to virtually any emotion and any set of circumstances naturally giving rise to one’s emotions.

The Courage of Wise Emotional Expression

There is no courage in emotional suppression or repression, only delusion. Telling little boys — or anyone — they simply shouldn’t cry is not healthy, and it sends a message of invalidation. The only appropriate response to someone else’s tears is compassion.

Notice, I did not say “empathy.” We need not empathize or sympathize every time another person is brought to tears. In fact, sometimes, we should resist doing so, while at other times empathizing and even crying along with someone can be the right thing to do.

Compassion encourages the wise and healthy expression of emotion — expression that is not manipulative or coercive and that does not harm oneself or others. Compassion is courageous, because it does not run from the wise, healthy expression of emotion. Such courageous compassion requires a great deal of inner strength, because others’ expressions of emotions can be overwhelming and unpleasant for us.

Remember, though, that courage is not the absence of fear (or aversion), but the will to act in spite of it. The virtue of courage enables us to be most fully human, because it enhances our capacity for compassion, kindness, love, and presence for others.

© 2021 Noel Bagwell. All Right Reserved.

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