The Opposite of Courage

The Opposite of Courage


“The opposite of courage is not cowardice; it is conformity.” Jim Hightower

“Conformity is the jailer of freedom and the enemy of growth.” John F. Kennedy

When did you last have the courage to make the choice to be different from those around you?  You might have stood up for someone when everyone around you was putting them down.  You might have chosen to go, or not to go, to university when everyone else in your family or friendship group chose the opposite.  You might have chosen to be open about being non-heterosexual or non-binary in a conservative society.  Or you might even have chosen to enter a religious order, with all of its rigours, when you live in a largely secular community. 

Recently, I had the extraordinary experience of witnessing the ordination of a good friend into the Catholic priesthood.

In a speech welcoming the new priest, the Bishop thanked him for his “yes” to all the questions encountered along the path to priesthood.  I don’t pretend to know what all those questions would have been but the Bishop did praise Father Anthony for having the courage to be different.

It struck me that, despite the push for diversity in our workplaces, it is unusual for any of us to be praised for choosing to be different. I am sure I’m not alone in remembering the pressure to conform when I was growing up, even though I sometimes responded to that pressure by deliberately choosing the exact opposite of what everyone expected of me.  Yes, I may have been dux of my senior class but I am ashamed to say I was sometimes the clichéd teen conforming to non-conformity. I smoked, I drank under-age, I kissed too many boys (shhh… don’t tell my parents. Or my kids…!)

Even after we’re all grown up, many of us figure that, by blending in with the crowd, or a part of it, we are more likely to be happy and less likely to be singled out for criticism.  As understandable as this is, is, the sense of invulnerability that comes from being the same as everyone else comes at a price: your authenticity, your individuality, the freedom to chart your own course and to find your place and purpose in life.

I have been pondering what choosing to be different has to do with courage. Do you need to be a courageous person to choose to be different to the majority or, having made the difficult choice to go your own way, are you more likely to make the other tough choices involved in being true to yourself?

I know for sure that there can be an unwarranted escalation of commitment to decisions we make about professions, partners AND pals in an effort to prove that we do or do not, belong to a group whose opinion matters to us.

We don’t live our best lives in those spaces, and we end up feeling trapped and unhappy in situations that we never actually chose – we just drifted into them on the current of other people’s opinions.

If, however, we resist the siren song of sameness and make our own choices, we are not guaranteed to have everything precisely to our liking, but we will have the satisfaction of knowing that we have acted with courage to live a life that is our very own.

Leave your own thoughts on conformity and courage in the comments below, or just like what I have written (if you do).

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This Post Has 3 Comments

  1. Ruby Peddell

    Well I found out some secrets today.. no not really. This is part of the real struggle with courage it is sometimes easier to just follow the crowd or the expectations others put on you. You are clever then you must choose a profession or path that uses the SMARTS so to speak that you have.. well not really. Take the road less travelled if that is what you really want and make your own courageous choices along the way. Some of us take a full lifetime to find what we really should be doing and do not have the courage to choose another road if that will take us to where we fulfil our dreams.

    Scary thought I think.

  2. Lewes T Peddell

    I’m writing a proposal and drafted the following: Let the energy move freely as opposed to being used to maintain cohesion. We need to have the courage to allow for non-conformity to enable freedom and growth. Thanks, Sister!

  3. mummalove

    Sometimes I get frustrated with my 10yo for not fitting in enough, because I think it would make things easier for him (and me!) in some ways. But I am also proud of his ability to say what he does and does not want, regardless of the impact it has on other people, and stay true to himself.

    I think it’s okay if people want to be part of the mainstream crowd, as long as it’s a choice made with intention and courage. I think the important bit is being authentic and true to who we are, rather than simply to fit in.

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