Inspiration Corner, Personal Growth

How to Develop Courage, One Conversation At a Time Lessons Learned From JFK's Profiles in Courage

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how to develop courage and confidence
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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 committed are you to your values? Would you stand by them even if it meant losing your job or your friends? John F. Kennedy’s Pulitzer Prize winning book, Profiles in Courage, is the perfect blueprint for how to develop courage and confidence. | courage | conviction | standing up for your beliefs | being authentic | staying true to yourself | profiles in courage book | john f kennedy |

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?

26 thoughts on “How to Develop Courage, One Conversation At a Time Lessons Learned From JFK's Profiles in Courage

    1. Same, Mary! This is something I struggle with as well which is why I think I admire it so much. When I look at the types of high stakes situations mentioned in the book and countless other stories, I realize that the situations in my own life that seem scary really aren’t that bad at all.

  1. Speaking up is tough. I know it’s gotten better but I feel like it’s gotten harder too since people who are against things seem more vocal these days.

    1. Totally, Betsy! When it comes to social media debates (especially politically charged ones), I honestly think the best strategy is just to stay out of it because it’s gonna be a losing battle. But when you’re having a face-to-face conversation with people you care about, it’s important to speak your mind, even if you know you can’t change their mind.

  2. It is not easy speaking your mind, especially if what you think isn´t necessarily aligned with the majority.
    You´re right though, I also believe in that journaling, meditating and spending time in nature strengthens our core and help us reconnect with ourselves.
    I agree that we should create some silence in our lives, it is impossible to hear ourselves through the noise of so many people talking.

  3. I always hold back expressing my opinion or I sometimes decide to say what one want s to hear because I try to avoid consequences but I think I should just let go and say what I think.

    1. I can completely relate, Joan! I always think about what the consequences will be and really, sometimes it’s not worth a big fight if the person is set in their views or just trying to get you riled up. But when it’s something you really care about, with people who matter to you, it is good to say what you think. This is something I’m working on too, and each time I do, something inside me opens up.

  4. If we have clarity on what our values are then courage will follow more easily. It’s too easy to mindlessly surrender our autonomy and simply follow the crowd – especially in the social media age. People too readily conform for the validation of an instagram like.

    1. Yes, Eimear, that’s so true! Sometimes I don’t speak out because I’m not really sure how I feel about something and if I speak too soon I might say the opposite of what I mean. But taking the time to sort my thoughts out really does make a huge difference.

  5. I love that you wrote about this topic, Kate! It is something that is very difficult for all of us to do because by standing up for what you think, you are also making yourself vulnerable because others may have different opinions and judge you for your beliefs. I know it is something I have had to work on my whole life and honestly, it is so empowering to know yourself and be proud to share it!

    1. Thanks, Tessa! Yes, that’s a great point. Speaking your mind does make you vulnerable and sometimes when people question my beliefs, I start to doubt them as well. But as I take the time to look within, I am gaining more conviction in my beliefs. I also realize that it doesn’t have to be a contest or a matter of who’s right and who’s wrong. People will always differ in their beliefs and that’s what makes life interesting.

    1. Excellent point, Brittany! Yes, being authentic isn’t just something that happens in a room of people. It’s taking the time to get to know yourself and define your values.

  6. We all have to face up to difficult decisions from time to time in our lives – it would be nice to say that I always got it right – but I know for sure that I didn’t.

  7. Your words are particularly relevant to the current political stalemate, with a president who has no core principles, and the legislators who don’t have the moral character to stand up to him.

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