In the Wizard of Oz, the cowardly lion joins Dorothy in search of courage only to find that he had it all along. Like the lion, courage is a quality that most of us wish we had - or had more of. While characters in our favorite books and movies show off their courage in facing down villains, in real life social activists and other leaders are the ones with the real stuff.
In the United States (U.S.), February is Black History Month. It's a time to celebrate major advances, but it's also a time to reflect on significant acts of courage. Think of Rosa Parks refusing to give up her seat. Consider Martin Luther King, Jr., sharing a dream that was unpopular and put him in such physical danger that he lost his life. And if you think it's only adults who show courage, think again. Ruby Bridges was only a child when the simple act of going to school required a flock of U.S. Marshall bodyguards.
Psychologists tell us there are six qualities that courageous people possess. Courageous people feel fear but decide to act anyway. They follow their heart (or their dream), even when it doesn't seem like that dream will ever happen. They stand up for what they know is right and they don't let setbacks or suffering change who they are.
Courage is a choice we make but it's also a hard, painful, and often slow process. It's easier to let fear take over or to "go along to get along." It's difficult to keep working toward a goal that always seems to keep moving just out of your reach.
Quiet actions are often as courageous and capable of far-reaching change as actions that make the headlines. Going to school, entering a public space as an equal, raising your voice, writing a letter or research paper, and becoming an informed citizen - these are all acts of courage. They were hard-won freedoms by courageous people who have gone before us.
We honor that courage every day when we live the full lives they fought to give us.