Category: Life Lessons

Courage and Freedom

One of the ladies I enjoy learning from gave a big speech the other day. The whole thing is worthwhile but I wanted to focus on a story she relayed near the end: 

…when, on a trip to Israel, I met my hero and now my friend, Natan Sharansky, I really only had one question for him. I asked him if it was possible to teach courage. 

He paused and said this: “No. You can’t teach it. You can only show people how good it feels to be free.

Bari Weiss, 92nd Street Y Address

By now, if you’ve been a part of Weequahic or read anything we’ve written, you’ve come across our feeling about ‘courage.’ I’ve written about it a few times. 

As a person who beats the drum about ‘courage,’ I was stopped by Mr. Sharansky’s reply. And, I think he may be right. 


So, before we start, how do we define courage? The Oxford Dictionary defines courage as the ability to do something that frightens one.  So, in other words, you’ve got to be afraid in order to be courageous. 

It doesn’t matter if you are feeling fear from looking down from the zipline station or getting on the bus for the first time, getting up on stage to address the whole camp or connect with your new bunkmate soon-to-be friends. Feeling no fear? No courage is needed. 

And, without courage, there is no freedom – from fear or anything else. Campers, this is important:

Just because you ‘feel’ fear doesn’t mean you are ‘captured’ by it. You still have the freedom to act as you’d like. It’s simply up to you.

Viewing Courage

When I think of teaching, I mostly think of book-learning and Mrs. Vipperman introducing biology to me as a seventh grader, chalk in hand and frog in front of me. (She was a heck of a teacher – and very memorable.) And, I’ve learned (a bit) about courage and the freedom it creates from books.

I’ve read a lot about people who have shown courage. Whether it be about Dr. King or George Washington or Mahatma Ghandi or Mother Teresa or Harry Potter or John Snow, I’ve got stories and stories and stories in my head of people who lived ‘free.’ 

From these stories, we can be introduced to courage and living free. It’s better, though, to be surrounded by people from whose example you can learn in real time. 

‘Doing’ Courage

The second best way to learn how to live free is to watch those around you. At camp, counselors come to mind first. They’ve chosen to become part of something larger than themselves and pour everything they have into making the summer amazing. It takes courage on their part to do so. Why? Because it would be so much easier staying home and working at the GAP or the coffee shop or doing an internship in some big office. But… those things are rarely as meaningful, purpose-full or fun.

The next group I think about as ‘examples’ are our CITs. Watching them balance their responsibilities of leading camp with the fantastic benefits of being a CIT (fridge in your bunk, more flexible time, their own Cove space, etc.) is very instructive. 

The very best way, though, to learn anything (just about) is to do it. Badly, at first, most likely. When you learned to walk, it was a stumbling, bumbling, hair raising experience for both you and your parents (for different reasons.) But you learned. 

Courage is the same way. Start off by standing up against something small that frightens you. For example….

I remember young Luke being afraid of snakes at first. With the help of a fantastic naturalist and surrounded by his parents, Luke (barely) touched a small black snake.  A little later that day, he held it with the naturalist’s hands underneath his own. After learning more and taking instruction seriously, a few days later Luke handled the snake on his own. Ultimately, he wound up showing other kids the snakes and helping them through their own fear.


What does it take to build courage? A couple of things: 

1.     Opportunity – you can’t start practicing if you don’t have the opportunity. Camp, as you may have already guessed, is a great opportunity. So is the classroom! 

2.     Encouragement – Get around people who you KNOW want the best for you and let their support put wind in your sails. Your parents, coaches, teachers, siblings (yes, I said it) and close friends. And DEFINITELY your camp people.

3.     Curiosity – You’ll never know what is on the other side of that fear you are feeling until you experience it. If your curiosity edges out your fear, you’ll be ready to show the courage to try. 

4.     Safety Net – Hey, Miguel would never let you on the trapeze without the net, your safety harness and several good pairs of hands to support you. Kiera and Osmar wouldn’t let you climb without your harness, a properly tied rope, helmet and spotter. Make sure you’ve got your safety net around you… and then jump!

Courage will open up the world to you. You’ll be able to enjoy more thoughtful relationships, experience deeper satisfaction and extend past your self-perceived limits. There will certainly be bumps in the road and…, well, so much more joy, too. 

Go on, camper. Take the first step to get past that fear and feel the joy of being free. We’ll be here to help.

What Makes You Happy?

Well… it’s not the internet. How do I know? The Dr. Jean Twenge recently put out an article and  great series of graphs on the World Happiness Report. Dr. Twenge and her team looked specifically at 12 to 18 year olds. (I would guess the following holds true for our younger… and older… friends, too!)

Time on the internet has increased dramatically from 2009 to today. During that same time period, the average amount of sleep and ‘in-person’ interactions have plummeted.

And, guess what the results for happiness did? Just like the rockets that don’t pop their ‘chutes at camp: straight down.

But, if you spend any time at camp, this isn’t a surprise. There are no phones and very, very little internet. There is an abundance of in-person interaction. In fact, you can hardly get away from it. And, (believe it or not parents), there is a lot of sleep – at least 8 hours for even our oldest campers.

Here’s the kicker graph to me:

Now, this graph is ‘correlational’ rather than ‘causal.’ That means it’s not proven that spending time texting or on social media or internet causes you to feel unhappy. It could be that when you are unhappy, you reach out to those options.

Either way, we know the things on the top of the graph – with the scores moving to the right – are either making you happy or are things you do when you are happy.

Want to know something crazy? It really doesn’t matter if it’s a before or after scenario. The more you do things that are correlated to your happiness, the happier you’ll be.

At camp, you can pretty much do everything that is purple in the graph above… except the news things. Yes, you can even do homework… if your parents request it. The things in yellow? Almost impossible to do at Weequahic.

Here’s the thing: you know you are happy at camp. So, make your life in other areas as happy as you can by making it more like camp.

How? Start by getting off your phone and around others. Go play. Volunteer your time. Reach a book. Write a list of you are grateful for rather than spending time scrolling. There are lots of ways. You just have to get creative and decide to go and do.

Get out there, Weequahic. Move! Interact! Sleep! And be happy.


A group of dads and 8th grade boys and I were talking a bit last week. We were focusing on how to protect against the challenges that culture throws at us… and the challenges we throw at ourselves. 

One young guy asked a question about the seven ‘deadly’ sins. It was a phrase I’d not heard in a while so we looked them up: pride, greed, lust, envy, gluttony, wrath and sloth.

These were first discussed in the 6th century. The idea was to name the ‘foundational’ challenges (or sins) that lead us humans to other challenges. If we knew what the bad things were, the thought went, we could defend against them.

All are pretty self-explanatory. Thinking of yourself too much (pride), being jealous of others (envy), getting really, really angry (wrath), having that 4th… or 7th cookie (gluttony),etc. But, being the overbearing camp director that I am, we started going through each one. 

About three quarters of the way through, another young man looked up and said, “It seems like most of these could be categorized as ‘wanting.’ I want too much food, too much entertainment, too much money.”

It was a great insight by an 8th grade guy. But what came next was even better. 

The Antidote

One of the other dads in the group looked around, smiled and asked, ‘If most of these problems start with wanting too much, what’s the antidote? How do you stop it from getting going?”’ 

Without batting an eye, the young man responded, “Probably being grateful for what you have.” 


This principle applies as much to an 8th grader as it does to a business tycoon as it does to a writer. In fact, I recently heard a story that brought this idea home. 

Kurt Vonegurt wrote about an experience he and fellow writer Joseph Heller had together. While at some big party in a fancy house, Vonegurt looked at Heller and said, “Joe, how does it feel knowing that our host made more money yesterday than your book, Catch 22, made in its history?” 

To quote the rest: 

And Joe said, “I’ve got something he can never have.”

And I said, “What on earth could that be, Joe?”

And Joe said, “The knowledge that I’ve got enough.”


That’s a hard thing to do in this day and age. It’s soooo easy to find examples of what you don’t have – more things, more recognition, more free time. Culture is set up around us to egg that ‘wanting’ onward. 

And, frankly, some of that wanting is a good thing. You want to better yourself and the circumstances of those around you. You want justice for those not receiving it. You want and work towards understanding. 

For many of us, there comes a moment when you simply forget to be grateful for that and those which are in your life because you are so focused on wanting ‘more’… whatever that ‘more’ is. That marks the point of diminishing returns, the downward slide. 

At some point, there has to be enough. Because striving towards things that don’t fill you up in a way that makes you and your loved ones better will start to do damage to you and your loved ones eventually. Mr. Heller knew this. The young man around the table knows it as well.

What is Enough?

Now, ‘enough’ will seem to be different for you at different times. What is enough in middle school is different than in college or when you are a parent. The funny thing is that it is really not that different at all. In a letter to his wife, Abigail, President John Adams said it best:

The longer I live, the more I read, the more patiently I think, and the more anxiously I inquire, the less I seem to know…Do justly. Love mercy. Walk humbly. This is enough.

Works for me and probably will for you, too. Have a great weekend. 

(Full disclosure: I was battling ‘pride’ myself around that table. The young man who had the insight and answer above is a Weequahic guy through and through.)