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The courage to do nothing

Date

A growing number of people are realising that being courageous doesn't always mean taking action. In fact, courage can be found in what we choose not to do.

Back to basics ... finding the courage to care.

Back to basics ... finding the courage to care. Photo: Louise Kennerley

Being courageous doesn't always mean taking action. In fact, courage can be found in what we choose not to do.

A growing number of people are taking the word back to its roots and pointing out that it isn't necessarily about action in the face of fear so much as openness in the face of fear. And this kind of courage can unfold in the most common of circumstances.

Take Benny Callahan. At a Shine Sydney event two weeks ago, the social entrepreneur spoke about having the courage to care. After thinking about the word and its association with taking action, he had come to the conclusion that sometimes courage means "sitting on my arse and doing nothing".

As an Outward Bound leader, putting school students through their paces in the great outdoors, he was once lumped with a student who, the teacher warned him, was a 'gang leader'. He chose not to ask the student's name because he didn't want to "take on [the teacher's] prejudice", but it quickly became apparent - the strong character of one boy stood out.

It would have been easy to jump to conclusions, but Benny chose to stand back and observe. The boy, he discovered, was a natural leader. He would reach each destination ahead of the group and trot back to carry the stragglers' bags.

One night around the campfire, the boy approached Benny to ask what he was doing. "Writing poetry," Benny replied. "What's that?" the boy asked.

He explained and, not long after, the boy handed him some scribblings. Poems, Benny said, that were nothing short of beautiful. The boy had revealed a side of himself beyond the teacher's pigeonholed version.

And all Benny had done was something simple but powerful: while "sitting on his arse", he had stayed open.

The second, more recent, occasion was shortly after Benny had moved to a part of Sydney that he didn't like. Domestic abuse and petty crime were rife. It made him want to put on the blinkers every time he walked out the door. But, he decided he didn't want to turn into a closed, disengaged person, and so he marched out one day determined to stay 'open'.

He passed a crying girl and stopped to ask if she was OK. She wasn't, so he handed her his hanky and sat down beside her. He had no idea what to do other than to be there, with her, on the sidewalk. Her mother eventually arrived and the girl thanked him. For what, he wondered. He hadn't done anything.

But, in her renowned Ted talk on the power of vulnerability, Brene Brown reminds that the origin of the word courage comes from the latin, 'cor', meaning heart. When the word entered the english language, she said, its original definition "was to tell the story of who you are with your full heart."

If courage, as distinct from bravery, is seen in this way, it is about keeping your heart open to others. It is not always coming up with a solution or jumping into action.

It is an idea authority on sustainable economic development, Ernesto Sirolli explored in this recent talk, titled Want to help someone? Shut up and listen.

Having spent more than 40 years as an aid worker, helping communities to establish projects that facilitate development, he says he has learned to "get away from patronising bullshit where we arrive and tell [someone] what to do... I do something very, very difficult. I shut up and listen to them."

In simply having the courage to be quiet and listen, he has helped to start 40,000 sustainable businesses in 300 communities around world.

He points out that success starts with supporting each other. "In the first two pages of Richard Branson's autobiography... [he never uses the word] 'I' [but uses] the word 'we' 32 times," he says. "He wasn't alone when he started."

If success starts with supporting each other, supporting each other often starts with having the courage, the openness of heart and mind, to simply sit and listen without judgement.

35 comments

  • Good advice. Too many people are jumping onto bandwagons instead of actually listening,

    Commenter
    Lynne
    Location
    Melbourne
    Date and time
    December 17, 2012, 9:21AM
    • Sometimes it's not just about pushing anybody onto a band wagon but allowing anybody to be themselves and find out for themselves what they are best at, it takes courage to make your ultimate decisions in life. Parents pushing kids to be Doctors or Soliciitors when the kids themselves want to drive a bulldozer or be a hairdresser really need too put their ear to the ground and hear exactly where their children's feet pitter patter too. It's great to have amitions but courageous to take vocational and ofher life issues into your own hands and decide what is best for you regardless of family or social discord at your choices.

      Commenter
      Pickled Herring
      Location
      Frankston
      Date and time
      December 17, 2012, 10:49AM
    • What you say is true, Pickled Herring. Listening is the key.

      Commenter
      Lynne
      Location
      Melbourne
      Date and time
      December 17, 2012, 12:23PM
    • Good Article;just look at Dr Phil who is always "fixing"other peoples problems yet his own marriage is falling apart!!

      Commenter
      LittleBeaver
      Date and time
      December 18, 2012, 1:19AM
  • Thank you for this fantastic article. It is an excellent reminder to all of us that sometimes the smallest things - no matter insignificant we think they are - can make the most difference.

    Thanks for mentioning TED Talks, I have been listening to them for years and have been more inspired, saddened, angered, awed and inspired again by each one.

    Commenter
    Ultraviolet
    Location
    Brunswick
    Date and time
    December 17, 2012, 9:45AM
    • Lovely article. I think sometimes we are so afraid of silence that we are uncomfortable with just sitting with someone and giving them the space they might need to be quiet and/or to open up. Maybe that's just me - too busy trying to fix something rather than let a solution arrive. Thanks for the reminder - silence really is golden!

      Commenter
      Kate G
      Date and time
      December 17, 2012, 10:02AM
      • not only that, it works for domestic situation too. instead of jumping on bandwagon pointing fingers of family members especially to those who married into the blood, it takes courage to do "nothing" and listen. It is so easy to be on high and mighty horses and cast judgement while being a "supportive" extended family member.

        Commenter
        cj
        Location
        phillip bay
        Date and time
        December 17, 2012, 10:02AM
        • Creating peace requires more effort than war because we need to engage with and respect others. We need to see others' view points & ideas. War is the easy way out... Creating peace through collaboration, cooperation and compromise requires courage - it requires thinking, empathy and the ability to see the world from other people's perspectives even if you do not agree with them. Admitting our mistakes requires courage. Making amends when we so something wrong requires courage. Asking for help when we need it requires courage. Being willing to try new things requires courage. Doing what is right even when it is hard requires courage. Again making war is easy - creating peace requires courage.

          Commenter
          Sue
          Location
          Caulfield South
          Date and time
          December 17, 2012, 10:06AM
          • Sometimes I care so much and exhibit so much courage I don't even get out of bed!

            Commenter
            Ray
            Location
            Sunshine
            Date and time
            December 17, 2012, 10:20AM
            • Sometimes I care so much that I develop Carpal tunnel syndrome from liking and sharing so many facebook posts about first world problems....

              But I carry on without complaint

              Commenter
              AT
              Location
              Melbourne
              Date and time
              December 17, 2012, 10:49AM

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