The Essence of Bravery

I want to live bravely.

I want to stand with courage for my convictions. Yet my courage can sometimes degenerate into reactive fault-finding with others. I do this in relationships, I do this with institutions, I do this with politics.

It’s easy to find fault. It’s easy to stay blind to my self-deception.

As Pema Chödrön teaches, it’s much harder to look in the mirror.

“The essence of bravery is being without self-deception. However, it’s not so easy to take a straight look at what we do. Seeing ourselves clearly is initially uncomfortable and embarrassing. As we train in clarity and steadfastness, we see things we’d prefer to deny—judgmentalness, pettiness, arrogance. These are not sins but temporary and workable habits of mind. The more we get to know them, the more they lose their power.” (from The Places that Scare You, p. 75)

If I really want to be part of the solution (and not only point out problems), I have to courageously and clearly identify my own weaknesses and faults. Jesus said it this way:

Why do you look at the speck of sawdust in your brother’s eye and pay no attention to the plank in your own eye? How can you say to your brother, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ when all the time there is a plank in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the plank out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother’s eye.” (Matthew 7:3-5)

This isn’t to say that we shouldn’t talk about things that need to change or address things that are wrong. Wherever there is injustice, we should address it. We just need to pair courageous outward engagement with equal inward bravery as we take an honest look in the mirror.

What could happen if people on all sides of the issues did this?
What could happen politically?
What could happen if those who hold privilege and power engaged in honest introspection?
How could faith communities transform if leaders and members alike engaged in honest self-reflection, identifying blind-spots of self-deception?
When someone tells us we’ve hurt them, what could happen if we looked inwardly instead of getting defensive?
How could our relationships be changed by this honesty, bravery, and vulnerable accountability?

We won’t find out unless we try.

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