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How committed are you to your values? Would you stand by them even if it meant losing your job or your friends? I recently read John F. Kennedy’s 1955 Pulitzer Prize winning book, Profiles in Courage, with my high-school students, which had me pondering these questions. This book is the perfect blueprint for how to develop courage and confidence.
Unifying values across party lines
Kennedy’s book is a series of narratives featuring eight senators who demonstrated courage in office.
While they differ widely across the ideological spectrum, one commonality is that they all put their reputations on the line. They risked their careers—and in some cases their lives—to support unpopular measures. This was not to be rebellious, but to stay true to their principles.
For instance, Edmund G. Ross voted against President Andrew Johnson’s impeachment, defying those in Congress who desperately wanted to oust Johnson. Even death threats from other senators, knowing Ross’s vote was the deciding one, didn’t deter him. On top of that, Ross despised Johnson! But he knew that voting in favor of impeachment would set a dangerous precedent where Congress could kick out any president based on flimsy evidence.
Do you exercise courage in your everyday life?
Of course, most of us don’t face these kinds of momentous decisions where our lives and livelihoods are at stake. But the lessons in this book can apply to any situation.
As Kennedy writes: “To be courageous, these stories make clear, requires no exceptional qualifications, no magic formula, no special combination of time, place and circumstance. It is an opportunity that sooner or later is presented to us all. Politics merely furnishes one arena which imposes special tests of courage. In whatever arena of life one may meet the challenge of courage, whatever may be the sacrifices he faces if he follows his conscience—the loss of friends, his fortune, his contentment, even the esteem of his fellow men—each man must decide for himself the course he will follow.”
Have you ever avoided telling your friends about a song or movie you liked? Or, after being ridiculed, do you change the subject rather than defend yourself?
Have you avoided expressing an unpopular opinion or a controversial subject?
I know I have.
How to develop courage and confidence in your values
While the Internet provides a forum for a diversity of voices, it’s also susceptible to group-think. It’s no coincidence you see the same jokes and phrases floating around social media on any given day.
It’s more important now than ever to express what’s truly on your mind, even if it means dealing with the inevitable fallout.
Of course, sometimes it might be difficult to articulate (or know) your authentic thoughts when you’re constantly bombarded by inauthentic thoughts. Sometimes it’s good to step away from the Internet and allow yourself the space to reflect.
Here are some ways you can reconnect with yourself:
- Journal: This is an excellent way to get to know yourself inside and out. You’ll uncover any buried thoughts you’re hiding not only from others but also from yourself.
- Meditate: Meditating allows you to go within yourself, discovering your deepest desires as well as any limiting beliefs that may be holding you back. Lately I’ve been enjoying this guided meditation.
- Spend time in nature: No matter what mood I’m in, I always feel renewed after hiking in the park. There’s no judgement or pressure to be anything or anyone.
Will you stay true to yourself?
Many of the senators in Profiles in Courage ended their careers as pariahs, with only their family (and sometimes not even that) for support. But they were at peace, knowing they had made their choices on their own terms and not anyone else’s.
It’s appropriate that the book was written by JFK, as he displayed the ultimate in courage by attempting to create a new paradigm in politics: one that didn’t revolve around secrecy and endless war.
I’d highly recommend the book, not only for its valuable lessons but for its gripping details and descriptions. You can get it below.
When was the last time you held back from expressing your opinion? What steps have you taken to be bolder about speaking your mind?