Maya Angelou—poet, civil rights activist, political advisor—told us that of all the important virtues, courage ranks #1.
“Because without courage, you cannot practice any other virtue consistently. You can be kind for a while; you can be generous for a while; you can be just for a while, or merciful for a while, even loving for a while. But it is only with courage that you can be persistently and insistently kind and generous and fair.”
There’s good reason to believe that Angelou was spot on. Today, millions of men and women will congregate over social media, in communities, conversations, or make a passing comment to recognise the extraordinary role of women around the globe.
This is what this day is for: recognizing the history shapers, educators, entrepreneurs, advisors, managers, caretakers, teachers, as well as all the mothers, daughters, aunts, sisters and friends who deeply impact our day-to-day.
2018 was a momentous year for women, igniting the national conversation time and time again. Alexandria Ocasia-Cortez secured a seat in congress after fighting for equality in education and better healthcare services. Saudi Arabia finally lifted the ban on female drivers after years of protest, enabling more freedom of movement than they have ever had before. More women were elected to congress than ever before; women of color broke historic ground in the midterm elections. There’s no question about the impact women have had on social stability and long-term development of nations across all spheres.
As Angelou said, there’s one ingredient that underpins everything we do, the real fuel to fire.
That is, courage.
It was courage that motivated Malala Yousafzai to stand up for the rights to female education in Pakistan with grace, passion and power against one of the most oppressive regimes in the world in 2014. One hundred years earlier, it was courage—and compassion—that motivated Polish radiologist Marie Claire to drive ambulances right onto the front lines of battle to take care of the wounded, at the risk of her own life. Centuries before that, it was undoubtedly courage that caused Queen Esther of Persia to approach King Xerxes with a perilous, risky request that would eventually save an entire ethnic people group from perishing.
Grit with grace, power with humility, influence with integrity, these women—taking no measure of their strength for fear of provoking weakness—impacted the rest of history forever. It was both their courage, but also their immense character that left oppression and injustice ruined in its wake and consequently culture and history regarded them ‘a cut above’ rest.
At this point it is probably worth noting that recognizing the accolades and value of women, does not premeditate the degradation of men. This is not a subtle jab against men, nor is it an opportunity to pick up our wit, wisdom and strength as a leverage against them. While we’ve progressed in bringing the bad men and their mistreatment of women to the light for rightful punishment, we must also celebrate the good men in our society. Wonderfully, we have seen bold men unite with women around the topic— by not only contributing to the conversation, but committing time, finance and energy to paving a way towards a world of equal opportunity.
Sometimes courage isn’t always the most glamorous in the eyes of society. There’s the valiant, brave, fearless warrior-types but also the everyday moment of courage that happen only in the quiet of your heart. Courage, surprisingly, can manifest as tenderness. Bravery can feel tiresome and hard-on-the-heart, choosing to love your critics can feel somewhat ‘unjust’, and more often than not, in an age of individualism, entitlement and independence, courage looks like asking for help.
Courage is being kind to others and yourself, it’s having compassion and commitment to what you believe in. It’s imagining an outcome as though failure were not an option, it’s refusing to weigh the treasure of your life under the opinions of others.
So whether we find ourselves in the national headlines, an anonymous yet faithful caregiver, or we beat on in the ‘9–5, Monday-Friday’ grind, today we celebrate women all over the globe. We remember that we get to experience the benefits and privileges birthed out of the sacrifices of those who have stood up for truth even if they were the only ones standing.
Images via Ben Cope for Darling Issue 19