Courage

What is the most courageous thing you’ve ever done?

Someone in my alumni email group posted this question today, and the answers were amazing – surviving a world war, joining the Peace Corps, traveling abroad alone, finishing college…  I thought about my life and the first thing that came to my mind fits nicely on this list – moving to Liberia with no job and virtually no connections.

But the question asked about courage.  And, for me, moving to Liberia was an easy decision – a “non-decision” as my dad says.  Being away from family, meeting new and different people, navigating new cities, these are all things I had already done a lot of in my life.  Ok, so Liberia was new, but the process, the experience, the challenge wasn’t new at all.

Courage, to me, is doing something you’ve never done and something that doesn’t come naturally.  It is confronting your own demons and fears.  For me, the hardest thing to do is stick up for myself against people with power – to say, I matter and I deserve consideration.

In my life, the most courageous thing I have ever done is to report my former-boss, the Executive Director of a prominent organization, for harrassment…and then have to face him during mandatory mediation.  I will admit it – I cried.  I looked him straight in the face, told him honestly and clearly why his behavior wasn’t appropriate, and let my tears come out.  When I look back, the tears were just another way of being honest, of showing him and the mediator, just how vulnerable his behavior made me feel.  The mediation lasted four hours.

I’m an attorney.  We’re supposed to be good in a fight.  We stand our ground, throw out clever rebuttals, and, if we lose, we rebound by “exhausting” all of our (client’s) legal remedies.  In court and in the legislature, I can do that.  I can and have taken yelling, criticism, unfairness, hostility, and all manner of nasties.  But what gets forgotten, by the public and attorneys alike, is that we are still human.  We are not impervious to all emotion, to pain.  And I believe that’s a good thing – to once and a while have an experience that, however uncomfortable, reminds us of our humanity.  We bleed and, in doing so, remember that we’re alive. 

I ended up leaving that job when the board decided not to reprimand him, but I don’t have any regrets.  I took on my personal fear – I stuck up for me and said “I’m a person too.”  And in doing that, I left the job on my own terms.

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