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[mk_blockquote style=”quote-style” font_family=”none” text_size=”18″ align=”left”]Moral courage is a rarer commodity than bravery in battle or great intelligence, yet it is the one essential, vital quality for those who seek to change a world.” – Robert F. Kennedy[/mk_blockquote]
Doing what is right when everyone else is doing what’s right (or at least when everyone else seems to acknowledge what is right) is not typically a problem. It’s doing what is right when everyone else is doing what is wrong that requires more of us. It can even require courage.
While these situations crop up in life at any age, they seem to plague teens. After all, most teens take very seriously their job of pushing the envelope at all times, of proving that most if not all rules are stupid, of being about 1,000 times cooler than you (the adult in their life) could ever dream of being. Since we were all once teen-agers, it should be relatively easy to (re-)connect with the classic situations in which teens find themselves that require moral courage. Underage drinking. Sneaking into “R” rated movies. Cheating or committing plagiarism. Having sex for the first time. Cutting class. Lying to protect your friends.
Looking at the list, the morally right answer mostly seems glaringly obvious. And none of these situations seem frightening enough to require anything remotely close to courage. Yet, if we’re doing our job of trying to get in touch with how we really felt and perceived things when we were adolescents, I suspect we can remember how dire at least one of these situations seemed to us. So dire, perhaps, that we chose the morally wrong path even though we “knew better.”
What made the situation so dire? 99% of the time it was the fact that “everyone else” was doing it. Yes, that’s right. “Everyone else” – whether perceived or real – is a very powerful force. Peer pressure was often the reason we failed to muster the moral courage to do the right thing while we were in high school or college. And, while we probably wouldn’t call it peer pressure any more, swimming against the tide is still something most of us struggle with well into adulthood.
What adults have to lean on in situations like this that teens do not is life experience. My daughter’s very wise first grade teacher called it “simple time on the planet.” Over time, experience helps to mitigate peer pressure. We come to find out that “everyone else” is sometimes only two or three loudmouths. Even when “everyone else” is a larger group than that, as we mature, we begin to trust that it’s OK not to care what “everyone else” thinks.
But still, even with lots of time on the planet, we can struggle. Why? Because sometimes it’s really hard to figure out what we believe. Sometimes we’re still questioning what we think is right or wrong. Sometimes the moral path is camouflaged rather ingeniously – especially when the “other” path is packed with people.
What do we do then? We have to tune into our gut or our intuition. In other words, we have to figure out how something makes us feel. This is actually something that can be harder to do for those of us with more time on the planet. We are well-trained to think things through, to analyze and to study, but all this intellectual training does not put the same value of feelings. In fact, many of us are taught to distrust feelings as emotional rather than logical, as weak instead of strong. This can leave us at a loss for a compass when we’re trying to navigate a path that requires moral courage.
A yoga practice offers us access to just such a compass. Yoga helps even well-schooled, “heady,” proud thinking folks like me and you to reconnect with our inner-wisdom, our intuition and our feelings. We face feelings all the time on our mats.
We face fear. When a posture that “everyone else” is doing scares us, we must determine the nature of our fear. Is it keeping us safe or holding us back? We face joy. When we finally succeed in a posture we must manage our joy in an appropriately humble way that doesn’t leave us smug. We face frustration. When a posture is elusive or fleeting we must manage our response – balancing the desire to keep pounding away at it and the wisdom of walking away for now.
The right path for us on our yoga mat is often not the path that “everyone else” is taking. Yoga requires us to find our personal path. Not to do so puts us at risk of injury – physical, mental or emotional. Teacher after teacher has advised me to listen to my “inner teacher.” I say the same thing to my students. Our inner teacher knows much more about us than any teacher ever could. We learn quickly on our yoga mats to heed his or her voice.
In doing so, yoga puts us closely in touch with our intuition, our gut, and the wisdom we were born with rather than the wisdom that we gained through study. It is from this wisdom that moral courage springs. So the next time we’re deciding whether or not to allow “everyone else” to lead the way, we will have the strength, the fortitude and, yes, even the courage to go our own way. When we do, we might be surprised to look back and see that “everyone else” has followed along after us.
Trust yourselves. Be courageous. Change the world. I know you can do it.