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Lessons From A Courageous Veteran

In times when I question my own ability to be courageous, I take inspiration from others who have accomplished extraordinary things through their acts of courage and bravery.  Over the weekend, I joined a packed movie theater to see the movie Harriet, a film biography about American abolitionist and activist, Harriet Tubman.  The life she endured as a slave required courage just to survive, but she went far beyond that, escaping slavery in Maryland, finding freedom in Philadelphia, and then putting herself back into harm’s way some thirty times to rescue at least 70 slaves and bring them to freedom through the Underground Railroad.  

Harriet’s accomplishments are truly remarkable.  She was relentless in the pursuit of doing all that she could do to free as many slaves as she could.  During the Civil War, she lead an armed expedition that freed 750 slaves from plantations along the Combahee River in South Carolina.  As a veteran of the Civil War, she did not receive the same benefits as men and never earned a salary. As we commemorate Veterans Day, it provides an opportunity to honor and admire the courage, not only of Harriet, but the millions of individuals who have selflessly given of themselves in support of freedom. 

In his research for his book, Valor, author Mark Lee Greenblatt learned three things about courage:

  1. Courage Comes from Dedication to Something Bigger
  2. Courage is Found in Perseverance
  3. Courage Doesn’t Need Recognition

These were all certainly true for Harriet, just as they were true for the incredible veterans that Greenblatt interviewed for his book.  They are poignant reminders for how we might find our own courage or, for teachers and parents, help young people be more courageous when they are struggling.  Can we find a purpose that goes beyond ourselves? Can we take heart when we struggle, knowing that it is only through struggle that we learn, grow, and develop the grit to persevere?  And when we reach our goals through that struggle and courage, can we shine the light on those who helped us along the way?  

Not all acts of courage are as profound as Harriet Tubman’s or the veterans profiled in the book Valor.  Acts of courage can be as simple as a young person speaking up to support a student who was the target of social aggression, or working through stage fright to sing a solo part in the musical, or simply embracing the fear of taking the train to school for the first time and doing it anyway. Each small act of courage builds more resilience for the next bigger act. And those bigger acts might ultimately be ones that truly change our world for the better.  Thanks to Harriet Tubman and our veterans for their courageous acts of theat past that have made our lives better today.