Last week on the downtown streets of Seattle I found myself paused on the bustling sidewalk, gazing up at the blue sky. I had been glued to my laptop all morning, and was taking the chance to appreciate how the warmth of the sun balanced the crisp autumn breeze.
My musing was interrupted by a blur of movement – a man toppling face down into the busy intersection. He fell without warning into the chaos of cars rushing past. Someone yelled.
In almost the same moment, a small woman –– well under five feet tall –– launched herself through the crowd into the street. She stood fiercely, arm outstretched, signaling STOP to the oncoming traffic. I stopped breathing as cars screeched to a halt in front of her.
A man reached to help the fallen man as the woman standing guard stared down the pack of cars impatiently inching toward her. After the two men were safely on the sidewalk, she stepped out of the street and disappeared into the crowd, releasing the cars to fill the space between us.
I wish I knew her name. I wish I had been close enough to say something after witnessing such an incredible display of courageous compassion.
The powerful image of her stopping traffic has played in my head again and again since that day; her petite form standing like a pillar, flanked by open-mouthed onlookers. For me, that image is a powerful reminder that we carry that kind of courage around with us all the time.
Despite what fears and self-doubts would have us believe, acts of courage are not elusive, and bravery is not accessible only when our own lives are threatened. On a daily basis we spend time and energy managing our misgivings and insecurities. We don’t always remember that acts of courage, big and small, take place in the world every day.
What changes when we actively look for ways to exercise our courage?
What happens when we push aside excuses – I can’t… I’m not ready…I might fail – and choose to act?
We can start by taking small steps – completing a task we’ve been dreading; reaching out to someone we’ve wanted to meet; resisting the tendency to stay locked into a routine every day.
Instead of automatically caving to our excuses, we can challenge the reasons we can’t with the reasons we can.
Choosing to take small risks is “courage practice.” This practice helps to push us outside our comfort zone and over time, rob our excuses of the power they hold over us. Best of all, these small acts help keep us connected to our innate bravery.
We all carry the fierceness and courage of that anonymous woman inside of us. By routinely practicing acts of bravery, however small, we keep our courage primed. This priming supports us by keeping us focused on “how we can” thinking, and helps us stand strong when life throws the unexpected our way.