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The “C” word

Do you know the one?
Do you use it?
Does it run in your system?
Is it part of your core?
Is it the invisible part of your equation?

Or the missing link?

Courage. The “C” word. Why so much emphasis you might ask? To me this word is larger than most, dragging many more with it, air lifting some others and pushing a few more along my path. Without Courage we will not take risks, we will not push ourselves as we do; we need Courage to say no to a future client, to stop a press, to forget about budget and jump into the coolest most rewarding and satisfying project of our lives.

U.S. Senator John McCain considers Courage to be like a muscle, the more you exercise it, the stronger it gets. Courage is linked to the heart, to our emotions, our values and our souls. As I write this, I can think of many people I know, and many whom I don’t who I believe to be Courageous, some are obvious, others not so much. Now, I don’t really want to get political here, and talk about soldiers and our president, which of course, are the more obvious examples of Courage implementation (or lack of), I wish to dig deeper, I wish to find what is required to be thought of as courageous by our peers, what makes me think of myself as courageous… what drives you to act in a courageous manner?

A few ideas, or starting points:
1. Is an individual courageous because s/he has decided to take a role as a mentor? Or do you think this is something many of us can do but due to time constraints choose not to do.
2. Is your fellow designer courageous for moving across the world and starting on his own, standing for what his core values are no matter how hard things get?
3. Is a person courageous for not caring what people think about what he or she has to say? Even if this leads to dislike?
4. Would you consider a designer courageous because s/he decided to stop a press because of some dissatisfaction in the end result?
5. Would you consider that your boss (owner of the place you work in) is courageous if he decides not to work for a prospective client, one with lots of money for cool projects, because it interferes with his core values?

Many factors can drive us as individuals to act in courageous ways, for some it is fear, for others it is all about values, many do so in order to protect those whom they love, and many more do it out of passion.

What do you think makes your or somebody Courageous? Are you Courageous?

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PUBLISHED ON Aug.29.2004 BY bryony
Michael H.’s comment is:

Man, what a great subject Bryony!

For me when I see someone do something that I personally define as Courageous it's something that I, for the most part, would have trouble doing. But when I see a friend, family member, co-worker, or even a stranger do something that's this kind of Courageous, I also find it respectable.

For instance: A few years ago a co-worker (and friend) decided to strike out on his own with a partner. They were getting so much work on the side that they were losing sleep and decided that it was their time to do this. I found this act to be courageous.

When he gave his two weeks notice and informed our employer (of the dot.com company that we worked) why he was leaving, our boss chuckled to himself right in front of my friend!

Obviously my friend's pride was a bit wounded, but he kept his chin up. It paid off. A year after that event transpired, the dot.com completely folded, and now a few years later my friend's studio continues to thrive (they still lose sleep from time to time).

So, my point is that not only did my friend have the Courage to do something (even in the face of adversity) that I wouldn't do, he's earned a great deal of my respect.

On Aug.29.2004 at 10:58 PM
bryony’s comment is:

Indeed starting on your own is Courageous. I saw it in my oldest brother, who about a year ago figured out it was time, the wind was blowing in the right way and with two friends set up shop. What some didn’t know, was that he had a 5 month old baby (the first), had just bought a house and had but a few months earlier obtained his Canadian residency. It was no surprise then, that when I paid him a visit he had a good amount of gray hairs…

On Aug.30.2004 at 08:59 AM
Brady’s comment is:

Courage is one of those words - especially since 9/11 - that are bandied about almost with paint ball accuracy. And in between there is a lot of gray area with the word. A similar shade you find with the word hero.

In consideration of the definition of courage - The state or quality of mind or spirit that enables one to face danger, fear, or vicissitudes with self-possession, confidence, and resolution; bravery - my perspective of courage is not one I take lightly.

My perspective is based upon the reality borne in the risk and the consequence. Further, it is motivated by selflessness. Some examples I can think of:

An NFL player leaves a successful, financially beneficial career to enter the Army and dies helping rebuild a country.

A woman donates bone marrow to save a child she doesn't know.

A lone man stares down a column of tanks in Tiananmen Square.

A woman refuses to give up her seat on a Montgomery bus.

When someone tells me that it took courage to start my own business, I tell him the worst that can happen is that I would have to get a job.

Yes, it does oversimplify the situation because there is a risk being taken, but starting a business is somewhat of a selfish act - we are pretty much doing it for ourselves. People who put their lives, their reputations and endure pain or ridicule for someone other than themselves are truly courageous.

On Aug.30.2004 at 10:38 AM
John Bedard’s comment is:

There are different levels of courage. Willingly facing confrontation is often courageous. But facing a monumental change is also courageous, though often the consequences are not as potentially serious.

Yes, putting oneself at risk for the sake of someone else is courageous, but so is giving up everything you know to chart a new direction in your life. Naturally the former usually is more visible and garners more admiration, and the latter more often stays a private struggle.

On Aug.30.2004 at 11:10 AM
Tom Dolan’s comment is:

I'm glad it's not the C-word I was thinking of when I read the headline.

On Aug.30.2004 at 11:21 AM
Michael H.’s comment is:

Sorry Brady, I didn't mean to offend you with my example of a Courageous act. It was (in the most relevant form to this blog) only one example. I agree holeheartedly with your examples as well, since most of those are things I would have difficulty doing myself. Like you, I do not throw around the word Courageous either. My example was sincere.

I don't really want to compare your examples to mine for defining what's more Courageous, but I have days where I would rather stand down a column of tanks than thnk about starting my own studio.

On Aug.30.2004 at 11:41 AM
Tan’s comment is:

Some days, it takes courage to get up and go to work in the morning. Especially if you have a family/loved ones to support.

It doesn't really matter how you make a living, the weight of responsibility of caring for others takes real gumption, fortitude, and courage. Starting your own place often means risking more than just a job — so in that respect, it takes real courage every day. Not to mention, once you have employees, you become responsible for their incomes and families.

Does a 20 yr.old bungee jumping off a bridge require more courage? Does standing down tanks when you've got nothing to live for require more courage? Comparatively, no — sacrificing your own welfare is far easier than also risking the lives of those who depend on you.

I'd like to also say that it takes real courage for someone to go back to school full-time after years of working in the field. Takes real guts.

On Aug.30.2004 at 12:25 PM
jenny’s comment is:

Nice topic, Byrony!

My story's not about designers, but... the most courageous person I know (personally) is my sister Melanie. She has a rare, chronic, debilitating bone disorder which she's had since the 5th grade (she's 27). It affects her knee, elbow, shoulder blade, several vertibrae and her hip, which is twisted and fused (first "naturally," then surgically) with her femur. She spent most of her pre-teen and teenage years in and out of hospitals.

When I say rare, I mean it: one of her doctors, an endocrinologist with the CDC, is a specialist in the disease; he's in his 60s and has seen literally a dozen cases.

The disease has written itself into her body: her body is twisted. She walked for years and years with canes and crutches, and faced ignorant, nasty remarks from people who should have known better. Like the time when the principal of our high school saw her and said, "When are you getting off those crutches, hoppity?"

My sister faces everyday with a huge amount of pain; she probably always will. But she almost never complains or had an unkind word about anyone: to the contrary: she's the first person there when anyone she knows is having trouble.

She has a 3 year old boy now (a feat in itself given her problems), and when she realized that he was having some problems, she swallowed her own pride and got him help. His physical and occupational therapists think that, because of the early intervention, his learning disabilities will be slight, rather than severe.

And on top of it all, she decided last year to finish college (she got her AA but never finished her BA). She wants to be a teacher. I think she'll be great. She's taught me a lot.

She'll never make big headlines, but to me she has real Courage.

On Aug.30.2004 at 12:39 PM
Brady’s comment is:


Why would you think I was offended?

I was merely stating that I feel that the word courage is loosely tossed around these days. And there are varying degrees of courage - the gray area - that make a true definition of courage difficult to grasp or even agree on.


I, personally, am uncomfortable being called courageous for starting my own business in light of the sacrifices of others around me.

This is not to discredit your example, it is to illustrate how I feel about being labeled something I don't feel I deserve.


We each have our own personal situations, our private struggles, those are unfortunately deemed courageous since they must be made public to be judged as such.


Does a 20 yr.old bungee jumping off a bridge require more courage? Does standing down tanks when you've got nothing to live for require more courage?

I hope you are not directly comparing a bungee jumper to a Chinese man who was trying to thwart the militarized assault - where the number of dead and wounded remains a state secret - on students and other citizens who were peacefully demonstrating for an end to the rule of the Politburo and the fostering of a democratic state.

You aren't, are you, Tan?

On Aug.30.2004 at 12:52 PM
Michael H.’s comment is:

Wow Jenny, that's an incredible story. I was just thinking if we should delve into the distinction of someone doing one Courageous act, or someone doing multiple Courageous acts (which to me more closely defines what a hero is).

Your sister is a Courageous person for facing such enduring challenges day after day with such a positive attitude. Very inspirational.

Brady, I see your point more clearly now. I didn't understand the personal relevance you were hitting on. But I'll tell you now that I consider what you did a Courageous act by going out on your own, whether you're comfortable hearing that or not.

On Aug.30.2004 at 01:06 PM
Tan’s comment is:

> hope you are not directly comparing a bungee jumper to a Chinese man who was trying to thwart the militarized assault

Ease up there Brady. My point wasn't to compare the two. Just pointing out that there's lots of different ways to look at courage. Extraordinary action in extraordinary times is one form of courage (Tiananmen Square), foolhardy bravery is another (bungee idiot), and so is the everyday courage of responsibility and accountability for a family.

It's pointless to compare one versus another. I think we're both saying the same things.

And Jenny, before I worked in design, I worked in hospitals. The courage of people and families dealing with illnesses and disabilities is probably the ultimate courage of all. Especially in pediatrics. Thanks for the story.

On Aug.30.2004 at 01:33 PM
Brady’s comment is:

Ease up there Brady.

I love how Tan always thinks I am getting hot under the collar.

No, Tan I knew you weren't (couldn't be) comparing the too. I guess I should have used and emoticon. (God, I hat those things.)

You are more than right when you say there is a lot of courage in pediatrics. Especially in the kids who populate the cancer wing at your local hospital. Fact is, that makes me feel the need to be even more judicious with my use of the word.

On Aug.30.2004 at 01:49 PM
jenny’s comment is:

Tan & Michael - Thanks!

Its funny - my sister wouldn't call herself courageous at all - she'd probably name some of the friends she's made in hospitals, or the firefighters from 9/11...

Tan, you are right about the courage in pediatrics. The other kids I'd single out for Courage with a capital-C are burn victims. The hospital hospitality house my parents & sister used to stay at used to house patients & families from Mass General and Shriner's Burn Unit in Boston. One girl, with 3rd degree burns over 90 percent of her body, including her face, showed me one of her photos from before being burned... It took all I had not to cry.

On Aug.30.2004 at 02:14 PM
jenny’s comment is:

And Brady - yes-yes-yes to all of your examples! (And sorry - I said "Tan" about the pediatrics comment).

Last year, someone had gone around putting up posters of the man facing down the tanks in Tiananmen Square with "Courage" in red Helvetica Bold at the bottom. Someone else had (literally) followed around & defaced the man in the photo and crossed out "courage."


On Aug.30.2004 at 02:21 PM
jenny’s comment is:

Sorry Tan - you were the one who worked in hospitals - I'm making a mess...

On Aug.30.2004 at 02:22 PM
Michael H.’s comment is:

Don't sweat it Jenny, you should see some of my posts.

On Aug.30.2004 at 03:34 PM
Tan’s comment is:

Ok, how 'bout something a little lighter and not so heavy. Maybe something back to Bryony's original post — courage in a professional sense of what you do and who you are everyday as a designer.

I don't know about courage, but to me, it can take incredible Commitment to follow through on jobs for certain challenging clients. That's a C-word.

On Aug.30.2004 at 06:27 PM
marian’s comment is:

Oddly, courage is a word I never use. I mean, I must use it sometimes, but I can't remember when...

Ultimately you can't judge another person's courage. What looks easy to you is difficult to me and what you may think takes courage, I may do as breezily as walking out the door.

It takes courage to do what scares you, and fear is personal and ranges in size. More often than not, knowing that someone else has done it and succeeded is not helpful.

It was easy for me to open my first design studio because I was too stupid to know any better. Some people have called me "brave" for tossing away my existing design career to try something new, but it didn't take courage, it took desperation. I started teaching for the first time a few weeks ago, and walking into my first class I wondered why I wasn't particularly nervous and realized I was in shock. No courage there. And here on this site I often say stupid/revealing/provocative/contrary things. Courage? Not usually--I care what people think, but I enjoy the game of discussion too much to hold back.

I love how Tan always thinks I am getting hot under the collar.

You sounded pretty defensive, Brady.

I guess I should have used and emoticon. (God, I hat those things.)

Me too. [i was going to put one here, but couldn't stand the sight of it.]

On Aug.30.2004 at 07:09 PM
Tom B’s comment is:

Brady, I don't want to downplay the examples you've raised, but I don't think you should confuse courage with selflessness.

Of course, it takes a lot of courage to do something totally selfless, and this is why we admire these acts so much.

But sometimes it also takes a great deal of courage to do something totally selfish. I've never robbed a bank, but I'd imagine it would take a lot of courage, even if the resulting action isn't at all admirable.

Courage is just the act of overcoming fear, and fear comes from all sorts of places.

Perhaps by learning to be courageous in our personal struggles, even silly, trivial struggles, we can become more courageous when it really matters. Then we can all be a little bit more selfless.

On Aug.30.2004 at 07:46 PM
bryony’s comment is:

Courage is that which we conquer for whatever reason (personal or public, for me or us or you).

What makes us courageous has a direct link to our experiences and our life in general. Something courageous for me is not necessarily so for you. For example, Jenny finds her sister to be courageous, while he sister does not. I find somebody who starts a business courageous, as well as the guy who quits his job because his values are in jeopardy.

Courage is a strange thing. On one hand you have public courage, and in the other you have personal courage. Take for example a CEO. The personal fears and feats s/he needs to overcome (with courage) are different and quite possible perceived in different ways by those who are waiting to see what s/he will do next.

On Aug.31.2004 at 09:19 AM
jenny’s comment is:

I do think courage comes in all shapes and sizes. I brought up my sister in the first place because she isn't obviously "courageous" in any way that would get her mentioned in the newspaper, or that you would notice if you happened to meet her in the grocery store - quite a lot like Byrony's brother starting his business, actually.

And I think those acts are worth celebrating, noticing from time to time. Even when the people we celebrate - my sister or the people who start their own business - don't consider themselves particularly courageous.

It helps me when I face some minor humiliation or setback, or a decision between easy and right.

On Aug.31.2004 at 10:43 AM
Armin’s comment is:

> It was easy for me to open my first design studio because I was too stupid to know any better.

We'll do the "S" word next week. (Many examples of that).

Actually… I think courage is a strange combination of many things, one of them stupidity. Sometimes because one "doesn't know any better" it's as if you don't know what's at stake, or what you can lose in the process. It's also a matter of context where the same act can be noted as courageous in one instance and noted as a "nice gesture" or something in another. What else… circumstances too… but that's similar to context. Anyway, Courage is defined and determined by much more intricate (and bigger) things/issues/actions.

I'll stop rambling now.

Also, one shouldn't expect for somebody else to say "Hey, buddy, that was courageous, nice job". Because, as has been said, courage comes in many forms, each of us has to be aware enough of when we are doing something courageous and acknowledge it for our own sake.

On Aug.31.2004 at 07:04 PM