Courage is the capacity to move ahead in spite of despair. For years, I have been enchanted with Paul Tillich’s, the Courage to Be where he suggests that self-preservation and self-affirmation logically imply the overcoming of something, which at least potentially, threatens or denies our self. Courage is the power of life to affirm itself in spite of uncertainty and ambiguity, while the negation of life, because of its negativity, is an expression of cowardice.
The tension between affirmation and negation is important to understand. There are so many social forces that seem to resist or undermine our efforts to be the best we can. This can be quite fatiguing, especially when we find ourselves with problems that seem like they must be urgently solved. We experience that which blocks our lives as being a negation, at least of our efforts, if not of ourselves.
The actual psychology of carrying on or aiming at doing better next time implies that we conclude that we must work to diminish that which undermines. This logic, when taken to the extremes, is the following: If we do not conquer those negative forces, then we may be conquered by them. This position involves us in attempting to negate the negation of our live which sometimes we have to face. No matter how justified this may be, the process being engaged in fighting the negation of our live is of the same kind as that which is designed to overcome. Even if we were successful in eliminating the external negation, it would be unsuccessful, because we would have become like the very process we aimed to overcome.
When confronted by some kind of negation the challenge is whether we can affirm that negation as being part of the actual self-affirmation adventure. To behave only by negating the negation would only create more negativism. Hence, courage is the behavior of affirming that which negates our lives even though that very affirmation causes some human pain. The paradoxical psychology of courage can been seen as going toward those very things that are most difficult. The lesson here is that actions taken to avoid or overcome such negation, create the experience of needing to overcome. The very interesting question is what is the substance or content of avoidance, on the one hand, and the overcoming, on the other? These reflections also pose core organizational issues…
An institutional system attempting to develop or change itself so that it can work better is trying to create something that currently is not. The individuals who make up the institutional system are searching to create or transform something larger than themselves that would not exist unless a collective entity is formed or change. They are also struggling to avoid being less than they are as individuals in their efforts to be more than they are as parts of the institution.
All social structures, to certain extent, are organizations of emptiness…But if the structure did not exist, in its place there would be nothing. A friendly warning: any structure developed for containing emptiness (for change or transformation) also contains the potential of emptiness that it constantly struggles to evict.
Copyright 2002 QBS, Inc.