Constructive Versus Destructive Courage
I cringe when I hear someone say, “I’m just going to tell him …” intoned with a determined bravado. Odds are, the ensuing conversation will go badly and will create a destructive wake of anger and hurt feelings that may inflict irreparable damage to a relationship. While the act of confronting someone to right a perceived wrong can appear to be courageous, the results are often far more destructive than constructive.
When we fight back from a place of fear we rarely create meaningful change. That’s because confrontation ignites fear in those who are confronted. And fear is far more likely to incite a desire for revenge, than openness to reflection. Destructive courage is Hell-bent on returning fire, putting people in their place, and getting even. Worse, it perpetuates and reinforces the pattern of threatening others to get one’s way. That’s not meaningful change, and it’s not helpful.
If you want to create change, you have to change the limiting pattern by showing people the benefit of doing things differently. That takes constructive courage.
Constructive courage invites and inspires others to consider different possibilities. It’s often a quiet courage that works behind the scenes to influence outcomes and build connections. It leverages “the system” in positive ways to suggest, request and invite the consideration of alternatives and unlikely collaborations. It’s the thoughtful cashing in of chips to build alliances and an honest observation from a different point of view. It has the persistence of flowing water, finding a way, rather than the crash of a tidal wave, wiping out the beach.
The pivot point between constructive and destructive courage is your intentions.
Constructive courage springs from a place of possibility with the intention of attaining a higher good. Destructive courage, on the other hand, is often set in motion by reactionary emotions that leave people with a bad case of regret when all is literally said and done.
When you’re angry or upset, take a moment to get centered and clear on your intentions before you take action. One of my favorite coaching questions is designed to transmute concern and frustration into constructive courage. When you find yourself ruminating on a situation, ask yourself, “What do I need to say or do to be at peace with this?”
Often a sense of peace is a courageously compassionate, heartfelt conversation or two away. Set your sights on the higher good and courageously step forward. That’s what meaningful change looks like.
Dianna L. Anderson, MCC
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What does constructive courage look like to you?