The word courage comes from the Old French corage, which means “heart, innermost feelings.” In Middle English, courage meant to express “what is on one’s mind or thoughts;” it’s associated with bravery. While we often think of courage as the willingness to place one’s self in harms way to save others or to stand up for a compelling cause, we rarely think of it as the willingness to risk social rejection, humiliation, or abandonment while pursuing greater connections and results in relationships. It takes courage to utter our thoughts and feelings to other people when we’re not certain how they’ll respond. Many times every day each of us have opportunities to do so. But do we?
Expressing what’s hidden often feels quite scary. How will the other person or people respond? Will they offer heartfelt appreciation of your courage, or will they laugh or criticize or even ignore? And if any of the latter are expressed, how will you react? Will you shrink or be stirred to anger? Will your face turn red with humiliation? Will you flee or freeze? Clearly there’s no guarantee that your heartfelt honesty will be met with love, appreciation, or respect. That’s what makes it vulnerable. To be vulnerable is to be open to attack. Gosh, it’s no wonder why so few people reveal their innermost experiences. Why on earth would they take these risks? Ultimately, because they have a vision of something more and realize that staying mum will not feed their souls, fulfill their dreams or, on the most pragmatic level, lead their projects to successful conclusions.
There are some people who practice being courageous in relationships. They make a habit of being authentic by sharing the little and big ways that they think, feel, and believe. They are willing to speak up about what they experience as obstructing greater closeness, connection, and/or success. They are committed to having intimacy in their relationships. Many people misunderstand intimacy. They think it’s synonymous with sexuality. It’s not. Think of intimacy phonetically as into-me-see. Letting people see into you takes courage. Without this courage, deeper intimacy cannot exist. This is not to say that people can’t have great relationships without intimacy. Many have proven they can. However, something is still lost without it or, at least, not found. What’s found is a deeper understanding and appreciation of what makes that person tick. It’s truly knowing and being known.
Sidney Jourard, an early researcher into the power of self-disclosure, linked this sharing to psychological health. Disclosing to (at least) one person is necessary for healthy personality. He also believed that “you cannot collaborate with another person toward some common end unless you know him. How can you know him, and he you, unless you have engaged in enough mutual disclosure of self?” We often find this true in our work with teams and organizations. Obviously there are more and less skillful ways to self-disclose courageously. Throughout the Rewire Leadership website are a multitude of different practices you can learn that will maximize the probability of creating great results through your courageous actions.