In the high school Leadership classes I taught, we talked a great deal about courage. Our class code asked each student leader (many of them elected by their peers) to dig deep to keep their word, include everyone, stick their neck out when they saw injustice or dishonesty, and try to bring their best self to each day. We acknowledged the COURAGE it takes to stand up for what you believe to be right - especially in the face of potential ostracism from friends or classmates. And then we tried HARD to practice it.
The final assignment asked the students to pick a quote that spoke to them about the qualities we had studied and tried to emulate in our Leadership program. It required a paper examining how the quote reflected the student's understanding of leadership and an oral presentation to the class summarizing their thoughts.
"Robby" was in one of those classes. He had been born with complications in the brain that impacted his speech, his gait and his cognitive ability. Robby waited until the last day to give his oral presentation.
He had chosen Abraham Lincoln's quote about character:
Nearly all men can stand adversity, but if you want to test a man's character, give him power.
On the day of his oral presentation he arrived in class looking worried and shaky. One of the girls in the class offered to write his quote on the board when he struggled with the chalk and the spelling. Once the quote was on the board, he turned to his classmates and haltingly spoke about POWER. He spoke of TV shows and commercials where people used POWER to tease others, drive a car real fast, or blow something up. He spoke of school life where POWER meant being popular. Finally he spoke to his group of classmates - many of them elected leaders - who had befriended him, who had high-fived him when they passed him in the hallways, who had thought up the idea of having him wear the school mascot costume at the basketball games and the POWER he felt in that incognito role of THOR.
When he finished, I could not speak - and still these years later, as I remember this, the tears come. The room fell silent that day. Then "CJ", a tall and powerfully popular senior, spoke. "We have been talking about COURAGE all semester long. Today we saw it!"
I will never ever forget the lesson I learned that day from Robby about the incredible COURAGE it takes to be vulnerable! Now, in retirement, without students to teach me about vulnerability and authenticity, I find Brene Brown's TED talks and blog inspire me.
Were CJ's words Robby's gold medal that day? I wonder.
I imagine Robby watching these Summer Games. How I wish I could put him on the medal stand!
Maybe we could hold our own summer games - the Olympics of Authenticity! Go for the Gold.