Personal Growth - Courage Unplugged
Deathbed wisdomExcerpts from Randy Pausch's last
•Never underestimate the importance of having fun. I'm dying and I'm having fun. And I'm going to keep having fun every day
Security does not exist in nature,nor do the children of men as a whole experience it.Avoiding danger is no safer in the end than outright exposure.Life is either a daring adventure, or nothing.To keep our faces toward change and behave like free spirits in the presence of fate is strength undefeatable.
- Helen Keller
I am a stronger person today,” says 26-year-old Deepa Narasimhan, who was detected with spinal muscular atrophy (SMA), a motor neuron disease when she was just a year old. As the motor neurons affect the voluntary muscles involved in activities such as crawling, walking, head and neck control, and swallowing, she needs help for each activity of hers.
| Despite suffering from spinal muscular atrophy, Deepa lives a full and rich life
In an interview on the Internet, Randy Pausch, a professor at Carnegie Mellon University asks rhetorically, “If you knew you were going to die and you had one last lecture, what would you say to your students?” Randy, who is suffering from pancreatic cancer and has only a few months to live as per doctors, gave a final lecture to his students at Carnegie Mellon in 2007. At the forefront of academic research and education, Randy has collaborated with industry and has many firsts to his credit. Steering away from dry theory, he shares all the lessons he learned during his journey in an inspirational and humorous speech, imparting invaluable life lessons he considers essential for a complete life. Its upbeat tone, total lack of pedantry and gloom, and fiery ‘can do’ attitude has made it so popular that the lecture has been downloaded more than a million times on the Internet.
What is in common between Deepa and Randy? Both are battling with a physical ailment, have determination and grit, zeal, and an incredible zest for life. However, the bedrock quality that makes them truly extraordinary is their tremendous courage.
The myth of security
It is the first day of a child’s school. Perhaps without realising it, most parents focus mainly on conveying the dangers of being alone in a big, bad world to the children. Very few try to motivate the child to be brave, and welcome their foray into an exciting new world.
Whenever one goes on a journey, especially when travelling alone, one is barraged with well meaning advice on how to be safe. “Avoid talking to strangers”, “don’t draw attention to yourself ” and so on. Indeed, today, the virtue of courage does not receive much attention, or worse, is discouraged. Courage is a quality we associate only with mythical and screen heroes, soldiers, and firefighters. Most of us are conditioned to play safe, to not stick out our heads too far, to not draw attention to ourselves in public, to not talk to strangers and so on. In our everyday life, security is what matters most. In such an environment, fear is a reality, not something that can be overcome. Most of us remain plagued with fears, both real and imaginary. Fear of failure, fear of rejection, fear of going broke, fear of being alone, fear of humiliation, fear of public speaking, fear of being ostracised by family and friends, fear of physical discomfort, fear of even success; the list is endless.
Avoid danger, not life
In prehistoric times, we all exhibited a fight or flight response to safeguard ourselves; fight was manifested in aggressive, combative behaviour, and flight was manifested by fleeing from potentially threatening situations, such as being confronted by a predator. Though not required now, these responses persist. For example, the fight response manifests in angry, argumentative behaviour, and the flight response manifests through withdrawal, substance abuse, and even mechanical television viewing. In less extreme cases, as we overemphasise the importance of personal security in our lives, a part of many of us is deadened. Naturally, such an attitude snowballs into a mechanical, mundane life, where each step is as per the book. No doubt, there exist real dangers in life that one must avoid. One need not jump off a train or from a helicopter to prove one’s bravery, but we all need to drive away the numerous (imaginary) fears we are gripped by and reclaim the far more powerful life that we deny ourselves. In other words, we need to start living with gusto. For instance, with due respect to the advice of friends and well-wishers, I must say I have had very enriching encounters, and even friendships, that began on journeys. As a result, I definitely feel there is a lot to be gained from being open to the perspectives of the medley of people one meets during one’s travels instead of remaining cocooned in one’s own world.
Bringing about change
Naturally, if you undermine courage at the personal level, it creates a society that is dull, lifeless and unreal. For we never think we can bring about any change, whether in our lives or in that of the world around us.
| The courage to stand up for justice, accountability and secularity
“Retinitis pigmentosa struck my brother when he was just 15, and he lost his vision progressively,” recounts Shanti Raghavan, who then realised how hard it is for even educated people who are impaired in any way to get employment. “If my brother had this problem, I realised there must be others too,” she says, and began understanding the issue from a much wider angle.
| She had the courage to leave behind an established career to help the physically challenged
The popular music video by Nickelback, If everyone cared, has images and videos of past social justice and human rights events, showing how when an individual cared, he or she ended up changing the world. Betty Williams led a march of 35,000 women to the gravesites of three northern Irish children after witnessing their deaths. Bob Geldof did Live Aid. Peter Benenson ignited Amnesty International. Nelson Mandela led South Africa to its first democratic election and ended the racist apartheid regime that had divided the country for 46 years. They are all epitomes of what Margaret Mead meant when she said, “Never doubt that a small group of committed people can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has.” Again, when we analyse the striking common factor between each of the above people and their movements, it is undoubtedly courage. Truly, most of the problems persist in the world not due to lack of intelligence, ability or even the lack of good intentions, but the scarcity of courage, a vital virtue for personal and societal well-being.
Reclaim your birthright
When we reconnect to our inner selves and raise our consciousness, we realise how unfounded all our fears are. We begin listening to our feelings and inner voice. We stop living a superficial life. We realise that courage is not something alien to us, but part of who we are. Is it not time to reclaim this birthright? We welcome your comments and suggestions on this article.
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