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STEP 4: Act with Courage
Action does indeed speak louder than words, and what is courage but your convictions in action? Many of us get uncomfortable when we think about taking action that will displease those we love. The key to acting with courage in your family is to accept tension as a vital sign of life. Yes, your voice might shake and your knees might knock, but doing the right thing requires that we live with our own discomfort sometimes. Here’s an example of the pressures we face when we act with courage:

Shortly after Karen and Steve were married, Steve’s daughter, Stacy, came to visit the couple on a college break. Two days before the visit, Steve asked Karen to please not have any meat, fish, poultry, or dairy products in the house when Stacy arrived. When she asked why, Steve said that Stacy was a vegetarian. 

“That’s fine,” said Karen, “but I’m not, so why do I have to get rid of the food I eat?” Embarrassed, Steve explained that, years earlier, Stacy had pressured him to become a vegetarian too. “But you eat meat!” Karen said. “Yeah, but I don’t want Stacy to know that I reverted to my old eating habits,” Steve said, “What’s the big deal?”

The big deal was that Karen wasn’t willing to perpetrate a lie in order to protect her husband from his daughter’s reaction. So she simply said she would not. Steve was shocked and wounded, and he complained about her refusal to back him up on such a small thing for a short visit from his daughter. She stuck to her guns, he sulked, and by the time Stacy arrived, tensions were running high. Karen was sad and miserable about the situation, but believed that joining Steve in keeping a secret from his daughter—even a seemingly small secret—would eventually come out and poison her relationship with her new stepdaughter.

Although this may not sound like an important issue, there was a principle involved here: Karen would not participate in a ruse, nor support her husband in his dishonesty with his daughter. It was difficult for her, and hurtful to hear her stepdaughter lecture and hassle her dad about the food in the house. She even threatened not to visit again if dad didn’t change his evil, carnivorous ways. It wasn’t pleasant, but Karen decided it was worth the risk to keep her own integrity.

Things to remember about courage:
  • You can only define yourself with action, never just with words
  • It takes courage to think differently, particularly when you are emotionally sensitive feeling the tension, judgment, and expectations of others
  • It takes even more courage to act differently…to stick your neck out in the face of demands or expectations from others
  • Acting on principle may leave you feeling isolated and alone
  • Most of all, courage means being persistent and resilient when people react to your action.
Start by taking baby steps—small moves, a little at a time—so you won’t get as anxious about your actions. And never forget, courage translates into action.
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