Can Courage Be Taught?

While I’m off at a conference, I’d like to share this article from my archives.


Even with my limited military experience, I know the value of training, like breaking down a weapon and putting it back together, over and over. Take care of your weapon and it will take care of you, kind of thing. Various forms of combat training, mock emergency exercises, gas mask drills—all done with the goal of solidifying the important things in the brain so when the need arises, the body reacts with little or no hesitation.

I used to volunteer with a white-water rafting company. I trained with the rest of the staff before rafting season, and during the season we trained groups of clients in river safety before each trip. Weekend after weekend, and year after year, it all got drilled into my brain. And when I actually fell out of a raft one day and found myself trapped underneath it, spinning in the current at the base of a waterfall, my body did what my brain had been trained for—and I did exactly what was necessary to escape, without panic.

Knowing the value of training is also the reason I always read through the emergency procedure literature on an airplane before takeoff and watch the flight attendant demonstrate getting out of a seatbelt and putting on an oxygen mask. I look at the pictures and go through the steps in my mind, imagining myself opening those emergency doors and escaping. I want my mind to be ready, just in case, so my body responds accordingly.

The armed forces, police, firefighters, and emergency/rescue workers train hard, and sometimes for years, in order to respond correctly in the face of danger or disaster. When asked about their bravery, many of these people will tell you they are just doing their jobs the way they were trained to do them. I can see this might be true the first time a person is tested, but what about after that?

It takes real bravery to face an enemy more than once, whether the enemy is found in nature or a fellow human. Doing so could be grounded in training, as well as camaraderie—watching somebody else’s back, not wanting to let your buddy down. It could also be the result of truly knowing what the right thing is, and doing it. Otherwise, ordinary people wouldn’t rush into burning buildings to save strangers.

But where do the roots of such bravery come from? Maybe from parents or others whom children admire, teaching them by their words and actions to love their country, respect life, do the right thing, and make a difference. These are the children who grow up to choose vocations that take them into danger or who dedicate their lives to helping others. Or who simply live ordinary lives with grace and conviction (which ultimately leads to a better world).

We may not be able to teach bravery, but perhaps we can plant the seeds of courage.

Where do you think courage comes from?

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Remember the Why in the What

Never forget why you’re really doing what you’re doing. ~ Derek Sivers

Skywriting

by Alice Winston Carney


Alice for bio 3Writing is like being in the pilot’s seat of my single engine airplane, trying to recover from a stall, the ground rushing faster and faster towards me.

The flying lesson starts well. I am in the pilot’s seat; Eric, my instructor, beside me.  I taxi onto the runway, call the tower, “8330X-ray, ready for take off”, loving the sound of my confident, female voice.

I give the engine full power, pull back on the controls when the speed reaches 70 knots. The little plane rises off the runway into the clear California sky. I level the plane, execute a smooth turn, reporting to the tower, “8330X-ray at 1500 feet, turning right, heading towards Tahoe.”

Below us the green and yellow agricultural fields checker their way across the great San Joaquin Valley, bisected by the American and Sacramento Rivers. All the world is blue, gold, and deep green as we head towards the foothills, Folsom Lake a sparkling dot below us.

Then Eric says, “Reduce power to engine, pull back on the controls,” two acts that go against logic when you are 2000 feet above the ground in a small tin can.

“Time to practice stalls.”

My pounding heart overpowers all sound, color drains from around me. “No!” I want out of this airplane.

But I am training as a pilot. I must learn to fly in all situations. I cut power to the engine. We float through the sky in an eerie quiet. My hands sweating, I pull back on the controls, raising the nose of the airplane until all I can see is sky. The nose goes up, up, then gives a dip down. A warning buzzer goes off. I have put us into a stall.

“Push the controls in, fast,” commands Eric. This is the third, most illogical step. Pushing the controls in, away from me, aims us towards the ground, causes the airplane to gather speed, dive, straight at the tree tops and rocks.

“Push, push,” Eric, yells. “Keep the wings level.”

As I write this, many years later, my fingers quiver on the keyboard, my breathing is shallow, and my stomach lurches. I remember the fear as I pushed the controls fully forward, forcing the plane faster and faster towards the earth. All I wanted to do was let go, to have Eric take over, to be out of there.

To quit.

But I stayed with the airplane. As our speed increased, Eric said, “Pull back, nose up. Watch the wings. Give it full power.” I did. And there we were, flying level, the engine purring, the wings lifted by a cushion of air and motion, Folsom Lake blinking its blue eye up at us. Only then did I feel the dampness on the back of my shirt, the sweat flowing down my sides. Only then did I breathe.

This is how I feel about writing some days: that I can’t write; that I don’t know how to write; that if I do write, the words will fly out of control and I will be hurtling towards the earth; that I want out of the desire to write.

I have learned that if I hold on, keep writing through that fear, I will level out again, I will go to a place that teaches me lessons about myself and fear. Writing is the lift under my wings, navigates me through the huge blue sky to where I want to go. Writing can make me as proud as I was when I became a pilot.


Cowgirl cover72Alice Winston Carney is director of Hermit’s Peak Press, which publishes original voices of Northern New Mexico. In 2010, she published A Cowgirl in Search of a Horse, a memoir of growing up in Las Vegas, New Mexico. Along with the authors Gerald and Loretta Hausman, Alice runs the annual Green River Writers Workshop in Las Vegas. You can visit Alice at greenriverwritersworkshop.com and on her Facebook page: greenriverwritersworkshop.


This article was originally published in the August 2013 issue of SouthWest Sage and is reprinted here by permission of the author.

The Road to the Sun

Today I’ve pulled a post from my archives (December 2012), inspired by an awesome trip to Glacier National Park. If you have time, please check out a new article at my Wanderer website titled “Dare. Dream. Write. More.” about why I decided to break my pledge not to make New Year’s resolutions.

GlacierNP_2The Going-to-the-Sun Road wound upwards around the ice-carved mountainsides of Glacier National Park in northern Montana. Forests of evergreens, patches of fading wild flowers, and the yellow-orange of still-changing foliage spread out before me along the road on three sides. Even the cliff face on my left, climbing toward an autumn sky, held beauty in its grey hues, and jagged lines and shadows. Mountain buttes hid the foothills of ridges. Ridges bowed before peaks. Each layer a darker shade of blue to purple-grey. All filled the horizon above v-shaped valleys.

I went around a curve, the traffic slowed to a standstill, and there, blocking the panorama, was a rocky outcrop with a rough-hewn tunnel leading through it. In comparison, the harshness of the lifeless stone and the spiny, leafless trees here didn’t hold the same beauty as what I’d just passed. Behind me, the view was still so awesome I could have stared at it for hours, if not days (so different from the grassy mesas and the looming shoulders of barren mountains I often hike near my home 1250 miles away).

Glacier_4On through the tunnel, and the vista was again wondrous ahead, this time less so behind. And so, The Going-to-the-Sun Road shifted before and behind, in varying degrees of glorious – because, really, even the views that held too much brown and grey or not enough mountain or sky, still held perfection in their own way.

During one of those moments in my ascent when I just had to stop and try to take it all in, I thought of how much looking back can ruin my present and my future. The landscape of my past is filled with both beauty and ugliness. But living in the past – whether glorious or gritty – has often been a trap that keeps me from living in the present. At the same time, working busily for tomorrow (even if tomorrow means the end of the day) without enjoying this very day, seems as much of a waste.

I don’t make true New Year’s resolutions, but one thing I’m going to try very hard to do this coming year is to enjoy my every today and hope more in the future.

What changes do you want to make in the new year?

The Quiet Voice of Courage

CourageTomorrow

Courage doesn’t always roar. Sometimes courage is the quiet voice at the end of the day saying, “I will try again tomorrow.”
~ Mary Anne Radmacher

Wisdom from Winnie-the-Pooh

 

Get Ready for Something New

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A Good Kind of Ledge

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Need a Reason to Grow Up?

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Swimming with Stingrays

For this post, I’ve gone into my archives and updated one of my earliest articles.

Cate Macabe with a treasureHere’s a photo of me on the coast of Maine with a treasure I found washed up on shore.

Seeing the not quite picked-clean bones of this huge fish reminds me of similar encounters at a time when I was young and innocent, playing in the sand with my silver spoons and plastic bucket, trying to dig to China. I remember how sand crabs skittered about while I dug deep holes that filled with ocean water seeping in under the beach. I remember finding the shield-like remains of a spiny horseshoe crab with its stiff dagger tail. And one peaceful afternoon, two men dragged a large thing through the surf and onto the sand nearby. A sleek, grey, smooth-skinned body with a long tail, and side and dorsal fins. I was little and the thing was huge, and it was a shark.

That creature laying on the sand made me wonder what else swam out there in the deep, among the rushing waves just beyond the shore. What else was out there that I couldn’t see? Close enough for swimmers to capture, close enough to swim among the swimmers.

I decided I didn’t want to be one of those deep-water-swimming-with-creatures kinds of people. I’m perfectly happy to watch the waves for hours, feel my toes leave impressions in the warm sand, smell the salt in the air, hear the gulls cry. At peace with the forever cycle of sea meeting land in a rush and swell, a falling back, and a reaching out once more. 

The sea and me, we have an understanding: if I don’t go in too deep, it won’t eat me alive. It’s not the fear of drowning that keeps me rooted in ankle-deep surf. I can swim just fine. No, it’s the things in the water I can do without. And I’ve always been okay with this perfectly logical fear I have.

Then I took my oldest daughter on a Caribbean cruise for her 21st birthday. We explored Mayan ruins in Cancun, hiked through a waterfall in Jamaica, visited a place called Hell. It was all wonderfully normal, until she wanted to swim with stingrays. AND she wanted me to join her. How sweet of her to think of me. The water would be warm and clear, she said. Clear enough to see all those creatures living in the ocean.

In doing research for This New Mountain, I came across the following quote by Ambrose Redmoon:

“Courage is not the absence of fear, but rather the judgment that something else is more important than fear.”

At the time of the cruise, I hadn’t been introduced to AJ Jackson (of This New Mountain) and her head-on approach to dealing with fear, but I knew deep down if I let go of this chance to share something remarkable with my daughter, I would always regret it. And a part of me actually did want to [shudder] swim with stingrays.

I talked myself into it and out of it dozens of times. I was still talking to myself as I followed my daughter down the ladder on the side of the sightseeing boat. I changed my mind again, but I couldn’t climb back up, someone was already clanging down the ladder above me. My heart pounded. I tried not to look at the water below as I stepped onto the bottom rung. To keep from hyperventilating, I had channeled deep Kung-Fu-Lamaze breathing for a good fifteen minutes up to this point. No other options presented themselves besides shoving the person above me off the ladder. I took a few more slow, even breaths, told myself to just do it, and dropped into the warm ocean.

I expected to have to push off the bottom and swim to the surface, instead I touched solid “ground” after a few feet. The water resting over this pristine reef was only armpit deep. The sand spread out at my feet soft and white and unmarred as far as I could see. No shells, no seaweed, no creatures, nothing but sand. It was as if someone had swept it clean just for me. This wasn’t so bad. I could do this.

Soon a murmur started from a group of people bobbing in the calm farther away from the boat and me, and closer to the open sea. Shadows slid through the water, dark cloaks winging toward us. I screamed along with everyone else – tenor and soprano voices mixed together, men and women alike.

But these stingrays were not there to hurt us. They were more like dogs racing in for the treats the tourist boat always brought along to bring them close. The rays hugged our legs and spun around us. My daughter, the adventurous child, hugged one back. I stood as still as possible and took photos of rippling cloaks and tiger-eyes unblinking. Soon the creatures turned and swept back the way they came.

I still don’t like deep water, won’t go in it, preferring slow walks along the edge of my mind and the surf. I’m comfortable with this fear, its limitations and its limits. I suppose I’ve always known that some things are more important than fear, I just don’t like to have to practice that particular piece of wisdom. But now I can say I swam with stingrays – and I never have to do it again.

Is there a fear that keeps you from doing something you’ve always wanted to do? Is it time to take a few deep breaths, pull yourself up by your bootstraps and jump in?