Tag: Courage

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.

Speaking from the Heart

At Camp Weequahic, we talk a lot about ‘courage.’ It’s one of our three main values for one very good reason. To quote Maya Angelou:

Without courage we cannot practice any other virtue with consistency. We can’t be kind, true, merciful, generous, or honest.

It’s good when you are generous and kind to a friend. It’s even more so when you treat someone you don’t know. What’s the very best? When you treat everyone that way, consistently – even those people you don’t like or feel like you shouldn’t.

Doing so takes courage. It requires us to be uncomfortable and, possibly, afraid of the consequences.

Learning a Lesson

When I was a senior in high school, I got a lead part in our three-act play. I was known at school as the preppy, conservative golfer. The young lady playing the female lead – and my character’s love interest – was a liberal, artsy, ‘rebel’ in my opinion. We both got some grief from our respective groups about having to work together. I was not happy… and neither was she.

We were neither generous nor kind to each other over the first few weeks. Then, grudgingly, we started to appreciate one another. On the final night of actual show, we stood on stage accepting the applause while holding each other closely. We had become good friends who appreciated each other, despite our differences.

I often think back and wonder how much better the play would have been had we both had the courage to be kind and generous to each other.

The Heart of Courage

The word courage is an interesting one and one that is linked very closely to the ‘Heart of Weequahic’ video we showed right before this campfire talk. The best person I know of to speak about this is Dr. Brene Brown:

“Courage is a heart word. The root of the word courage is cor – the Latin word for heart. In one of its earliest forms, the word courage meant ‘To speak one’s mind by telling all one’s heart.’ Over time, this definition has changed, and today, we typically associate courage with heroic and brave deeds. But in my opinion, this definition fails to recognize the inner strength and level of commitment required for us to actually speak honestly and openly about who we are and about our experiences — good and bad. Speaking from our hearts is what I think of as ‘ordinary courage.’”

Isn’t that great? I love how Dr. Brown drills down to the essence of things and puts these big ideas in such a way that we can apply them to our lives right now.

Ordinary courage is having the courage to speak honestly and openly about who we are and our experiences. It’s also about listening and accepting the gift of someone else doing the same.

My Heart Right Now

I’ll take a moment and speak from my heart.

These last five weeks have been the most difficult of my camping career. The uncertainty is the worst part: will the Pennsylvania Depart of Health allow us to open? What will the American Camp Association and CDC guidelines for summer camps require? How will our campers, families and staff members handle this experience and the decisions for this summer? Will we start on time, a few days or weeks late, or not at all? What will this do to our campers, our families, our staff, our camp and our full-time team?

I go through these incredible swings of emotions every day: I get a piece of news that leads me to think we are going to start on time and think this will be the most incredible summer ever. A few hours later, I get another piece of news that puts doubt into my heart.

Kate, Sue, Dana, Scrappy, Cammie, Jerry, John and I make plans, and the more plans, and then more again. Everything we are doing right now centers on two things: safety and flexibility. Thankfully, our suppliers feel the same way. Both Amerasport and CampTrucking will offer full refunds if camp doesn’t happen. The ACA is allowing medical forms to be filled out within the past 24 months. PackMyRx – our new camper medication fulfillment company – would send the medications home rather than to camp.

This Summer

Will we open? I don’t know. Are we planning to open? ABSOLUTELY! Are we coming up with a ton of ‘just in case’ plans? Of course. We’ll all know more in the next three weeks. As soon as we know which plan we can put in place, I’ll let all of our families know.

One other piece of my heart to share: thank you. Speaking on behalf of the team, I’m so grateful for the support, patience and love our families and staff have shown over the past several weeks. We know y’all want camp. We know that you all know that we want camp. We are going to do everything in our power to put have us all back safely at Weequahic this summer.

Whatever happens, I know our Weequahic family will face the situation with a grateful outlook, an intentionally chosen attitude, and the ordinary courage required to share our hearts. We all love you. Be safe, patient, and hopeful. We’ll all get through this… together.

Profiles in Courage

The following was adapted from our final Campfire talk during Summer ‘17. With our families in Houston and South Florida dealing with the forces of nature, I thought it would be appropriate. All of our thoughts and prayers are with y’all!

It takes courage to…. Remain Hopeful

A bit more than 100 years ago, Ernest Shakleton decided he wanted to be the first to cross the Antarctic by land.  This was well before good heaters, engines, and safe/fast boats as we know them today.

The goal was a big deal in England and elsewhere. In fact, his advertisement for staff is almost as famous as what later happened:

“Men wanted for hazardous journey, small wages, bitter cold, long months of complete darkness, constant threat of danger, safe return doubtful, honor and recognition in case of success.”

Shakelton and the 27 men signed on set sail on his boat Endurance for the South Pole. All was going well until disaster struck at the very edge of Antartica – the Endurance, one of the strongest boats on the seas at the time, was trapped by ice.

Over the following week, the boat was slowly crushed and destroyed leaving 27 men thousands of miles from home, stuck on the ice with little food, few supplies, and no ability to call for help.

How does Shakelton respond? The expedition’s doctor documented the explorer’s words:

“It’s a pity but that cannot be helped. It’s the men we have to think about.”

Over the next 22 months, Shakleton’s team lived on the ice, battled the elements, made an impossible sea voyage to an island 800 miles away to find help for the whole party, climbed over and down a mountain having not eaten in weeks, found help, and sailed back immediately to get his comrades.

The most amazing thing? Every one of Shakleton’s men made it home safely. His courage led to hope not only for himself but also for those for whom he cared.

It takes courage to…. Stand Up for What’s Right

In 1955, our country was not in a good place. There were terrible laws in some states requiring people to sit in different spots, use different water fountains, and go to different schools because of the color of their skin.

One woman, Rosa Parks, had been affected by this system of repression for her 42 years of life. Coming home one evening from her job as a seamstress, Mrs. Parks was asked to move from her seat to make room for a white man. She said ‘No.’

She knew what would happen and it did – she was arrested and taken to jail. Can you believe that? Just for not moving to the back of the bus.

Some thought she must have been tired, the reason for her not moving. Mrs. Parks responded:

“I wasn’t physically tired… No, the only tired I was, was tired of giving in.”

This was a courageous thing to do. What is courage but being fearful and doing the right thing anyway?

But, Mrs. Parks was not done yet.

Later that evening, after being bailed out of prison, Mrs. Parks agreed to be the focal point in a lawsuit brought against the City of Birmingham and the face of a boycott that lasted for over 300 days.

In the end, through threats and difficulty, right was awarded and those awful laws were changed.

It takes courage to…. Be Vulnerable

A very smart person named Dr. Brene Brown has spent a long time studying the important topics of courage, belonging, worth, and vulnerability. Let’s start with courage:

It comes from ‘coer’ which is latin for ‘heart.’ In Dr. Brown’s words, courage means to tell the story of who you are with your whole heart.

And here’s the thing – you are not perfect. You already know this. You have a few habits your want to change, a thought or two you’d like to not have, automatic responses that you would like to be different.

So, you have to have the courage to be imperfect. This takes compassion to be kind to yourself, first. Then, you can build connection to others as a result of your authenticity. But to be authentic, you have to be vulnerable.

It’s not fun but it’s necessary. And, you don’t get a guarantee that it will go your way. But here’s the important thing Dr. Brown found out – vulnerability is birthplace of love, joy, creativity, and belonging.

So, in order to ‘belong’ you have to be vulnerable. In order to be vulnerable, you have to be courageous.

The Need for Courage

As that really old dude said thousands of years ago, “Courage is the first of human values because it makes all others possible.” (It was Aristotle.)

The good news? Courage is like a muscle – the more you use it, the more you’ll have. Start small and start soon. While you might not ever be trapped on the ice for two years, you will have moments in your life that call for a courageous decision made or action taken.

We wish for all of our families (and everyone else) involved with recovering from hurricanes a quick and safe return to their lives.