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What does it mean to have courage?

One sort of courage

In 1984, Conservative MP Sir Anthony Berry died when an IRA bomb exploded in the Grand Hotel, Brighton, during the Conservative party conference.

His daughter, Jo Berry, said she made ‘a personal decision just two days later, to bring something positive out of this emotionally shattering trauma and to try and understand those who had killed him. I chose to give up blame and revenge, instead taking responsibility for my pain and feelings, transforming them into passion for peace.’

To me, that took courage.

Another sort of courage

Patrick Magee, who had planted the bomb, was released under the Good Friday agreement, having served fourteen years of his life sentence. In 2000, he responded to Jo’s request to meet.

To me, that took courage – from Jo Berry for reaching out and Patrick Magee for accepting her invitation.

The meeting was the first of many in which they listened to each other’s story. Subsequently, they have appeared together more than 100 times in public.

‘It doesn’t get any easier’ he says.

To me, this takes courage.

Yet another sort of courage

And then there are the antagonistic members of the public. After denouncing Magee as a murderer, one gentleman listening to their talk, took exception to the two of them appearing on the same stage, saying: ‘Does it not seem to Miss Berry that she may be an apologist for one of the most horrifying crimes of this century. It seems to be very psychotherapeutic for her and a great confessional for Dr Magee, but I’m not sure what the rest of us are getting out of it.’

In reply, Jo Berry expressed her view that she was a challenging option for Patrick Magee. He had told her more than once that it would have been easier for him if she had met him with anger and political debate. But she didn’t. She listened to him with respect right from the beginning.

‘The more he knows about me and about my father, the harder it is for him to face me and know that he’s hurt me. He lives with that contradiction, that difficulty. We have that tension between us all the time.’

He responded equally calmly. ‘I am a very conflicted person. While I can look at the past and understand that we had no other option, I also carry this heavy burden that I hurt human beings. Meeting you (Jo) puts your father there too. He’s a human being. He wasn’t before. He was that demonised enemy.  He was a Tory. That’s what you’ve given me.’

To me, that willingness to show vulnerability takes courage.

How do you show courage?

Whilst I hope that you never have to face challenges of the scale that confront Jo and Patrick, I’m pretty sure that there will be times in your life when the easy option might be to hide, to defend, to justify, to pretend … And that there’s a side of you that will want to show up in your full, wonderful and flawed human-ness.

What might that look like? An apology to your child for shouting impatiently? Reaching out to someone who has hurt you? Setting a boundary around a relationship?

Maybe it will be about speaking out about things that matter to you.

Small things, perhaps – but difficult to do with grace and humility. They require us to be transparent… to take responsibility for ourselves… to recognise that we do have choices moment by moment.

Ordinary courage, moment by moment

For me, it sometimes takes a modicum of courage to give my needs as much weight as other people’s. When I say ‘fine by me’ I might also be saying to myself ‘I matter less than you’. So instead of being (superficially) considerate, I’d rather show up and say ‘actually, I’d prefer something different. Let’s talk about it’ – with the expectation of finding something that works for both of us.