TRUE COURAGE

Inspired by a speech from President Barack Obama

Obama provided three pieces of advice to the graduates of high schools of 2020. You can obtain the full transcript on cnn.com (dated May 17th, 2020).

I read the transcript of the speech given by Barack Obama to the graduating HS students of the class of 2020, and I do hope that many people of all ages will take some time to let the message sink in. This message is as important to graduating high schoolers as it is to you and me and everyone else in this world.

Obama provided three pieces of advice: First do not be afraid as this too (COVID-19) shall pass. A lot has been written about the impact of the pandemic already. We slowly start to understand where we are standing but have to be mindful of an enormous lot of uncertainties as well. Most encouraging is that people are resilient and tend to adjust to a changing society. We have options, but for now we do have a responsibility to stay healthy and to protect the most vulnerable in our society.

Second, do what is right, Obama states that “what feels good, what’s convenient, what’s easy, that’s how little kids think.” Doing what is right listening to the truth that is inside, and which is grounded in your values guides you toward being part of the solution. I love this statement. It is extremely powerful!

In my previous post I made a case for the importance of critical thinking. Being able to distinguish fact from fiction and to be able to trace the sources of the information is crucial. What is equally important is to talk about values. When discussing values, which is a regular component during my therapy sessions, I encourage people to think about what is meaningful and important to them. Asking these questions and responding to their answers increases the depth of insight. In therapy we mostly do not tell people something they do not know, but therapists encourage clients to contemplate and ponder what else is there which may lay beneath the surface and may be less obvious.

Last, but not least, Obama mentioned the importance of building a community. He said that this goes beyond looking out for oneself, one’s own family or people that are alike. He said, “be alive to one another’s struggles [and] stand up for another’s rights.” Obama is talking about true courage and he made it clear that we do not have to do it alone, that we need to unite to be stronger to make a change.

All three are powerful. In the end, it is not just about us as individuals, but doing what is right and not being afraid to speak up and to join others. This feels inherently good and it builds confidence and when confidence builds, fear subsides. When fear is no longer what stops us from doing what we know we want and need to do, our overall level of anxiety decreases and gradually also our loneliness and isolation. It is not easy. Many times, we convince ourselves that it is not our place to stand up. But doing so, is courageous and it inspires others.

The only part I agree less with Obama is when he said that he is “one of the old guys” and that people like him do not need to tell the younger generation what to do. Indeed, telling others what to do is mostly not appreciated, and not efficient, but demonstrating in our daily lives what it looks like to stand for truth, justice and positive change will have a huge impact.

Where many of us have failed is that we have resorted to “what feels good, what’s convenient and what’s easy”. We failed to look closely at our values and need to identify where we lost track. We failed to go beyond ourselves, our family and our immediate environment. The older generation has a responsibility and an obligation to turn things around. Maybe now is the time to bury the cowardly avoidance of topics such as politics, religion and sex when talking with others. Of course, there is a time and a place for everything, key is however, to respectfully open the discussion of sensitive topics, and we will be pleasantly surprised that it is not only  possible to respectfully exchange information, but we learn something important about others and therefore about ourselves.

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