I am writing this blog in the middle of the coronavirus global pandemic. Schools and businesses are shut down; we are being told to stay in our homes and practice social distancing. With the shutdown of our economy, millions of people are out of work, and many are experiencing anxiety and fear for what the future may hold. Yet we see first responders, medical professionals and other essential service providers risking their lives to help our society navigate through these troubled waters. The visual imagery of firefighters running into the World Trade Centre as people were trying to escape during the 9/11 attack in New York is forever etched into my memory. This kind of courage has been evident throughout history particularly during times of war. But, where does courage come from?
I have found that courage is linked to your centre and Big WHY. I wrote about the Big WHY in the blog post, This is Why at Master’s We Are the “Crazy Ones“. According to Stephen Covey, whatever is at the centre will be your source of security, guidance, wisdom, and power. It’s what gives you your sense of worth, your direction, your ability to make decisions and your capacity to act.
There are many centres that may dominate our lives and become our source, such as our jobs, family, church, business, financial security, and the list goes on. In my book “Becoming Imaginal: Seeing and Creating the Future of Education”, I have collapsed all of these centres into 3 primary centres, namely self, others or a noble cause. These centres are wrapped up in our values and beliefs, which frame how we behave and view the world.
Self-centredness is arguably the most common centre—certainly with children as well as many adults. Self-centred people often find their sense of identity in what they do, namely work, a particular role in life, or various awards and achievements. Self will dominate those caught in the trap of materialism by its insatiable appetite for more things, more holidays, a bigger house, etc. This kind of person often takes on a victim mentality when life doesn’t go as planned; and when failure comes, it’s always someone else’s fault. The real downside when self is at the centre is that one never really takes a risk. This self protectionism leads people to sterile, boring, and unproductive lives. A person with an extreme case of self-centredness is called a narcissist, around whom everything revolves. Such people often become extremely controlling since ‘self’ needs to have control over all aspects of life.
Being other-centred sounds on the surface like a good idea, after all, should we not think of others instead of ourselves? Yes, we are to experience healthy and vibrant relationships with other people, but this isn’t what is meant when others are at the centre. If others become your source of approval, wisdom, guidance, and power then you have turned a positive virtue into an unhealthy co-dependency in which a relationship determines worth. Often other-centred people end up being people pleasers and manipulators.
Cause-centred people, in contrast, have found something bigger than themselves that drives their behaviour. History has shown that such people demonstrate great courage and are willing to take risks that others would not consider. Think of explorers, pioneers, humanitarians, missionaries, scientists, and social activists who have taken on a cause, the benefits of which we all enjoy today. These people were often willing to lay down their lives, for at their centre was a cause that came before self and comfort.
Courage is the motivation to step outside the traditional boundary and comfort zone, to take risks, take the lead, take a stand, and be willing to make mistakes, and in so doing learn and grow. Cause-centred people have a much bigger vision from which courage can grow.
A few years ago I was pondering the question, how do we live a life that is extraordinary, that is fulfilling in the truest and deepest sense of the word? Fulfillment is not defined by how much money you earn, or by the size of your house or bank account; it is about significance—the impact that you are making in your world. Steve Jobs, when he was recruiting a new CEO for Apple, challenged John Sculley from PepsiCo,
“Do you want to sell sugar water the rest of your life or do you want to join Apple and make a dent in the universe?”
We at Master’s aspire that our graduates become Imaginal Leaders, those who can pursue their personal vision without limitation. Imaginal Leaders have discovered how to balance the three centres of self, others, and cause.
We hope that our graduates will live their lives with a sense of destiny and that the Big WHY of their lives is more than serving the insatiable “beast” of self. We don’t expect that our graduates leave Master’s with a refined sense of their Big WHY, since it will take time for it to unfold, but we hope that they will have an orientation and desire to make a difference in their world and thus demonstrate great courage.