Why Good Things Happen to Good People: The Exciting New Research that Proves the Link Between Doing Good and Living a Longer, Healthier, Happier Life
By Stephen Post, Ph.D., Jill Neimark
Courage is love as action-love on her silver steed, forcing change in the world, rising to challenges, negotiating lite with skill, and confronting others with care and wisdom. The qualities that courage draws upon - hardiness and resilience, as well as the ability to bend and alter course when faced with difficulty, to commit oneself to a cause, and to find inner power during times of pain - are all associated with mental health. We need a deep, tensile strength to face the tough times in lite, to speak out persuasively against injustice, and, above all, to love others wisely and well. To love at all is a risk that requires courage-we risk our safety, letting ourselves be raw and vulnerable; we accept our share of compromise and weather disappointment and despair; and above all, we are willing to confront a loved one even it what we need to say is not easy or kind.
Courage takes many forms. For some, it means changing the world, even risking one's lite to do so. For others, it requires standing up for oneself, speaking out in your own relationships about what you need, setting boundaries. For still others, it's the bravery to face each day in spite of difficulties, either psychological, physical, or economic. For all of us, it means developing the resilience and optimism to handle tough circumstances and emerge stronger and wiser. From the landscape of the world to our interior landscape, courage is a necessity-and can be a powerful way of giving, as you'll see.
Courage is the hallmark of every human who has changed the world, from Jesus to Joan of are. Real courage is the legendary stuff of history. Martin Luther King Jr., Abraham Lincoln, and Mahatma Gandhi were killed for confronting deep harms embedded in the very structure of society. That they were able to remain free of malice while doing their work is remarkable.
But courage is not just the signature of great historical figures. As Paul Wink-author of one of IRUL's most important studies on giving and health-told me after interviewing nearly 180 individuals late in their lives, "Every life has its moments of quiet heroism. In a sense, we are all heroes. This is what I discovered in interviewing, in depth, so many different folks from so many walks of life."
I like students, and I think of myself as a nurturer, but one time I was forced to confront a student whom we all knew simply did not have the humanity required to be a doctor. He was vividly, palpably racist. His peers were appalled, and his patients terrified. After a series of discussions with this young man, we expelled him. Though we were subsequently flooded with threats from his lawyers, we stayed with our decision. None of us at Case regretted our decision; in fact, his ugly response only confirmed that we'd been correct, even though our decision took a bit of courage.
Courage comes from the Latin for "heart" (cor). Courage is also contained in the word encouragement - literally, giving heart to another. And so we can look to the roots of language to show us the essence of courage.
One of my favorite stories of courage is that of the eighteenth-century Quaker John Woolman, who went to Quaker meetings across all the colonies, witnessing to people, one by one, about the evils of slavery. He visited farm after farm for most of the two decades of his adult life and then traveled to England to continue his work there. Because of his efforts, by 1770, a century before the Civil War, not a single American Quaker owned a slave. Activists like Woolman possess courage in the face of threat, perseverance in the face of indifference, composure in the face of rage, equanimity in the face of hostility, integrity in the face of imprisonment, and, most importantly, love in the face of hate. We in our everyday existence can be inspired to do the same-and our lives will be better for it. For inevitably, when we truly love someone, we are driven at rimes to confront them.
The very idea of directing an Institute for Research on Unlimited Love is, for me, a way of confronting all those aspects of our society that fail the test of encouraging love. I run up against those who think that, frankly, the whole idea of studying love is insane, partly because they have no confidence that we can be sincerely generous, and partly because they think that real science looks only at human deficits rather than at strengths. I say: love is the only force that makes life worth living. This is my way of confronting the world as we know it with the world as it can become.
"If you want to be courageous, you've got to love. It you want to be powerful, you've got to love," says Otis Moss, the African American pastor at Oliver Institutional Baptist Church in Cleveland, Ohio, and a protégé of the Reverend Martin Luther King Jr. Moss, who is past chairman of the board of trustees of Morehouse College in Atlanta, the nation's only private liberal arts college for African American men, has been active in the civil rights movement for over forty years. "It takes far more strength to reconcile than it does to kill. Out of the context of reconciliation, India gained her independence, South Africa threw off the shackles of apartheid, and Nelson Mandela went from prison to president. So when we look at what bitterness and revenge bring forth and compare that to courage and reconciliation, there really is no comparison at all.
"It was during my college years that the lynching of Emmett Till took place in Mississippi," recalls Pastor Moss, "and Rosa Parks refused to give up her seat on a bus. I became a leader of the sit-in movement in Atlanta and at times risked my life and the lives of those I led. The night before I was to lead a demonstration at the state capitol in Georgia, the mayor of the city and the chief of police appealed to us not to go. I led the demonstration fully aware that we could be seriously injured or killed."
Pastor Moss recalls standing with Dr. Martin Luther King Sr. just after his wife had been murdered. "His wife was shot and killed while she was playing the organ in her church. Here he was, a husband, father, grandfather, a man who had witnessed the assassination of his son years earlier, the untimely death of another son, and now the murder of his wife. And he said, I will go on thanking God for what I have left. For the rest of my days I will not hate. I will not hate. I want to go on record that I will not hate.' We do not have to surrender to circumstances that would break us. We can let deep hurts remake us, finding new courage, new strength. There are people whose faces I look into from Sunday to Sunday who have witnessed death or gone through triple bypass surgery, and yet they sing 'Hallelujah,' and they are remarkable witnesses to the power of love. A person in my hometown once said to me, 'Pastor Moss, I'm living between the "Oh Lord!" and the "Thank you, Jesus!"' That was her way of saying, 'I live daily between the forces of burr and hope, hut "thank you" is always the final expression of my life.'"