"Life shrinks or expands according to one's courage. " -Anais Nin
Anais Nin is one of those marvelous characters of the twentieth century who were scandalous in their day, but almost tame by current standards. She was born in 1903 into an artistic family whose economic fortunes did quite a bit of shrinking and expanding during her childhood. She ran with the surrealist set following WW I and her written work explored the nature of the creative individual, psychoanalysis, the public and private self, and sexuality. When her circle (which included Henry Miller) was hard pressed for cash, they wrote erotica for a dollar a page—she called it *** caricature. When they couldn’t find a publisher for their work, they started their own publishing house—Siana Editions. An obscure figure, she was discovered only in the last ten years of her life. She was a woman who knew a lot about the courage of daily living.
Much has been written about courage, but Nin is pointing to something slightly different—she asks us to consider the consequences of courage. Courage is the strength to confront, persevere, and withstand danger, fear, or adversity. The word itself comes from the Latin for heart—the organ most associated with life. Thus, to demonstrate courage is to show heart. It’s to show that what we believe is important. Courage is about our life and how we choose to live it.
Now, most of us don’t live in a world where we have to stare down Grizzly bears, or pluck a child from a burning building or foil bank robbers on a daily basis. But, we are regularly called to dozens of small acts of courage. One of the most courageous—and difficult—of these small acts is making the decision not to play. This means not only doing what you believe is right, but not participating in the bad behavior of others. If you let the office bully goad you into an angry outburst, you’ve lost. You’ve surrendered your dignity to someone who taunts for sport. If you hold a grudge against someone who has offended you and spend your days thinking of devastating come-backs and plotting subtle snubs, you’ve lost. You’ve surrendered irreplaceable time to someone who’s entertained by your seething. If you look away when someone else is being treated badly, you’ve lost. You’ve lost because you’ve surrendered your moral strength to someone who thrives on draining the strength of the helpless.
Deciding not to play takes real courage. It requires heart to confront, persevere and withstand the thousands of small assaults on your character. These aren’t dramatic moments. They’re the challenges of everyday living. But the consequences are disproportionately large. Surrender brings resentment, bitterness, anger and often as not, indifference. These form like walls around us and sap the pleasure out of life. Yet even small acts of courage can bring large rewards. Maintaining control in the face of adversity is liberating in and of itself. Knowing that your actions are aligned with your values and expressed in a spirit of good will eliminates barriers and opens you to new possibilities.
Nin was right. The consequences are real. Even small acts of courage expand your life, while small acts of cowardice shrink it. Over time the valence of either courage or cowardice will come to dominate. This is a new day. Is your life shrinking or is it expanding? Do you have heart?
About the Author:
George Ebert is the President of Trinity River Seminars and Consulting, a firm specializing in the custom design and delivery of team building, personal growth and ethical development programs. Mr. Ebert is a highly sought after speaker, educator, and consultant with over thirty years experience in both the public and private sectors. He has presented widely throughout the Unites States. George is the author of the management cult classic, "Climbing From the Fifth Station: A guide to building teams that work!"