The Season on Cultivation
In order to make ourselves and our world better, we need to develop our skill at the art of living. During these ten weeks, we think about the concepts and competencies which help us live well – primarily in terms of virtue. We seek to build up our characters and cultivate habits which over time produce human flourishing.
In thinking about virtue, we follow the research of (among others) two modern psychologists, Christopher Peterson and Martin Seligman. We take our structure from their classification of the virtues and many of our resources from the VIA Institute on Character which continues that work. Peterson and Seligman enumerate six main virtues – wisdom, courage, justice, humanity, temperance, and transcendence – with multiple sub-virtues belonging to each one (they call these character strengths).
You can test your own character strengths on the VIA website.
Week 2 – Courage
“I must not fear. Fear is the mind-killer. Fear is the little-death that brings total obliteration. I will face my fear. I will permit it to pass over me and through me. And when it has gone past I will turn the inner eye to see its path. Where the fear has gone there will be nothing. Only I will remain” – from the Bene Gesserit Litany Against Fear
[Herbert, Frank. Dune. New York: Ace, 2005. Print.]
In Peterson and Seligman’s classification, courage is the virtue which allows us to remain steadfast in the face of various kinds of opposition. Having courage entails being brave (in the face of fear) and persistent (in the face of difficulty), as well as having integrity (being honest, genuine, and coherent) and vitality (being vigorous and energetic). We will explore each of these aspects as we return to this week year after year.
This year we focus our observance on bravery and cultivate a habit of doing the right thing despite our fear of its danger or unpopularity. We risk our bodies, our possessions, and our reputations in the service of noble goals. We also pay attention to the excesses of bravery. We chart a middle course between being paralyzed by fear and rushing unnecessarily into danger.
[Peterson, Christopher, and Martin E. P. Seligman. Character Strengths and Virtues: A Handbook and Classification. Washington, DC: American Psychological Association, 2004. Print.]
● Read one of the earliest and still one of the best discussions of courage, Plato’s “Laches” …
● …or a more modern take on the subject like The Courage Quotient: How Science Can Make You Braver by Robert Biswas-Diener. It is an interesting and informative exploration into the nature of courage with lots of examples and practical advice.
● Check out this great article about how to live more courageously (with links to follow up on if you’re interested in the specifics).
● Read the truly amazing story of Sir Ernest Shackleton and his men, who in survived for over a year in brutal conditions when their ship was destroyed during an ill-fated polar expedition in 1915.
● Throughout the week (and into the year), try to notice when there is a challenging situation and be mindful of your response. Move past your fear or trepidation and exert yourself on behalf of what you believe to be right.
● Try one of these fantastic activities, including movies to watch and ideas for ways to cultivate your bravery.
● Be brave with and for the sake of others. Join (up with) an activist organization which is doing something you feel is important. Go to a rally or protest.
● Encourage others to stand up for themselves and others. Help them conquer their own fears. Use the same list of activities, but think about how you could facilitate those experiences for others.
Have other ideas for how to celebrate courage this week? Comment below!