It was a sunny Saturday afternoon. We were in game three of four at a soccer tournament and I was more than ready to get through the final two games. I stood in the grass watching coaches corral their teams for pre-game pump ups and post-game recaps.
There was a team gathered nearby waiting to warm up. As two boys stood in line, I overheard one say “What do you call a …”
I froze. No way did he say what I think he said. I continued to listen.
“How do you make a …” he continued with his second “joke.”
Yep, this is really happening. My heart began beating faster. My palms got sweaty.
The boy, who was all of 12 years old, was telling derogatory jokes to a teammate. Loudly. With no regard for who was nearby and may have overheard him. (Side note: My choice to include only a portion of his jokes is intentional. No need repeating trash.)
I was overcome with disbelief, anger, disgust … even sadness that at such an early age he was either oblivious to his ignorance or completely aware and didn’t care. I needed to do something, but I didn’t know what to do.
Would it be appropriate to approach this child and point out how wrong he was? Maybe he’ll deny saying anything at all and I’ll look like some crazy woman reprimanding someone else’s child.
Perhaps I should say something to the boy he was talking to (who, by the way, was visibly uncomfortable and not laughing). Maybe this is how they always talk in private and he doesn’t mind at all.
Should I make his coach aware? Maybe this is indicative of how he runs his program and chooses to overlook this sort of “humor.”
Where are his parents? I will tell them. Maybe he heard the jokes at home; in which case, his parents will see no wrong in what he said.
I considered every option and my mind reasoned against them all. So many options … and I did nothing. I said nothing.
I felt like a coward that day.
On the heels of this incident and in light of all the individuals coming forth with sexual assault allegations after so many years in silence, I had to pause and reevaluate my perception of courage. I needed to understand why my mind and heart weren’t in sync when it came time to speak up. And why in those instances when we’re screaming from the inside out to do something, we don’t.
From early on, we’re taught to be brave and to face our fears. In theory that makes sense. In practice, we may not always rise to the challenge. And I think I’ve figured out why: courage is emotional, not cognitive. It takes heart and passion, not reasoning, to be brave. Instead of leaning into my passion for human decency and letting that lead my response, I reasoned my way through all the possibilities and froze.
\\Courage is emotional, not cognitive. It takes heart, not reasoning, to be brave.\\
Courage, as I now understand it, is not this 'thing' that comes flying in when we want -or need for that matter - it most. So maybe I wasn't a coward that day. Maybe I was just a person who chose to lean into another part of herself. Right or wrong.
I guess the whole point of me telling this story is twofold.
1. to urge us all to recognize what it takes to be courageous. In those moments when all the what-ifs play out in our minds; when we have everything to lose or nothing to gain and we still choose to move forward, that’s when courage takes center stage. It's no easy feat, and we won't always move.
2. to encourage you to lean into your passion, whatever it may be and wherever it may take you.
To the people who are letting their passion lead and being courageous despite backlash, potential failure, or whatever you’re being met with, I see you. I appreciate you. I applaud your bravery.