The Courage to Change the Things I Can
Why does change (both creating it and dealing with it) take courage? It's certain that change requires courage, but we're not always certain about why that should be so. To be frank, the cause can be traced back to the fundamental stopper: inertia. Whether change in movement takes place in the physical or intellectual and emotional realms remains incidental, the process is the same: it takes energy to overcome inertia. Whether it be a change in velocity or a change in direction, change requires energy and we have innumerable excuses for why we need to conserve our energy (excuses that have nothing whatever to do with the price of oil.
19112596 The cost to an individual to expend energy for change must be enormous — or at least it must be perceived that way. In the May, 2005 edition of Fast Company magazine, it was reported that over 90% of all people who have been told that their medical condition requires them to change their personal habits -- or else -- either fail to change them at all, or, within a short time, revert back to their old habits. Human inertia exerts a kind of extreme resistance to moving out of our comfort zone and, in many case, to moving at all. We feel much saver when we don't need to make decisions, let alone take action. Shifting our minds and our behaviors, putting our free will into gear (and keeping it there in life's uphill climbs) requires genuine courage.
Living a full, purposeful, inner-directed life requires — as a bare minimum — the courage to change the things you can (to paraphrase the Serenity Prayer). I often compare living a meaningful life to riding a bicycle uphill. You've got to peddle! If you should get tired and stop peddling, you won't just stop, you'll roll backwards. There are constant challenges that arise along the way for anyone who wants to live a life beyond the TV, the recliner, and the can of beer. Even then, challenges (like puberty and the midlife transition) come at you regardless of whether or not you've chosen to take an active role in your own life. 'Stuff,' as they say, 'happens!' How well prepared you are for those moments may well determine what kinds of ethical standards you live by, not in theory, but in fact.
You and I tend to be morally indignant and outraged when people act inhumanely to one another. And yet, chances are we'd indulge in exactly the same behavior if we were ever in those circumstances. You may remember the case of the woman in the Brooklyn, NY psychiatric hospital who collapsed on the floor of the waiting room and was stared at by almost a dozen people (including a doctor) for over an hour before anyone did anything. The woman died of a seizure. And, last month, A 78 year old man was stuck by a car crossing a busy street in Hartford, CT. He lay in the street alone and unattended while cars drove around him. Four people dialed 911 on their cell phones to report the accident, but no one stopped to check on the man until the police arrived. No one.
Indifference is a perfect example of human inertia in action. That's what happens when we — you and I — fail to exercise our 'courage muscles.' If you can't choose to make a difference for yourself, and then take action on that choice, how could you ever expect to take action on behalf of someone else? Here are five 'reasons' why psychologists say that you would predictably join a group of observers and fail to come to the aid of someone in need:
* Bystander Effect: "If others aren't doing anything, I shouldn't either (the person must not need help)"
* "If something happens, I am not really responsible for it (it's not my responsibility)"
* "Others will take care of it (I have to take care of me)"
* "It's not going to make any difference anyway (there's nothing I can do)"
* Culture of indifference: "That's not the way we do it here"
That's why it takes real courage to extend yourself, to put yourself out for the sake of someone else. This lack of courage also explains why so many people would rather suffer than change their attitudes and behaviors. Making different choices begins with shifting your awareness. It means asking yourself the all-important question, "Why am I here?" And then, when you start to have the answer (which has to include taking care of yourself and one another), the Serenity Prayer will have even greater meaning for you:
God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference. . . . Amen.