Tag Archives: Courage

Coffee Shop Courage and Why You Should Talk To Strangers

Yesterday I was sitting in my local Starbucks, minding my own business when this girl started talking to me. She was a strange mix of friendly and forward. She wanted to practice her English, and she saw that I was sitting alone at one of those small tables with two really comfortable chairs facing each other.

So I guess after gathering up her courage, she came over and sat right and started firing away the same questions that foreigners usually get in Japan.
“Where are you from?”
“Where do you live?”

Etc. These are basically the only questions they get to practice out loud in school, so it’s pretty much all most Japanese can say in English. Despite spending a large amount of time studying English in school, most of it is writing and reading, and grammar rules. They don’t get much practice speaking, let alone speaking to an actual native speaker of English, despite a desire to do so.

What was interesting about this particular conversation was the courage this young girl showed. (She said she was eighteen, and a student a local university). She first came, and sat down, and asked the normal questions, and I tried my best to make her feel comfortable, with slow easy answers, and as much Japanese as I could muster, to give her a feeling it was a group effort at communication, rather than her being on the spot.

After she ran out of things to say, she abruptly, stopped and said she’d be back. I guess she wanted to go and talk to her friends and think up some more questions. So, naturally, I went back to reading my book.

The book I was reading was “The Stuff of Thought,” by Pinker. He’s written quite a few books on the subject, language and how it affects our thought, and vice versa. I never knew how complicated language was. Some verbs behave much differently, and how they are used can show a great deal of insight into the thoughts underlying the deep structure of the language.

He’s also quite an interesting speaker. I think he has a few videos on TED should you feel compelled to go and have a look.

It kind of reminds me once when I was in this ice cream store. I was trying to decide not only what kind of ice cream to buy, but how many scoops. I hadn’t set out that day to buy any ice cream, I just kind of wandered into the shop to see what was in there.

While I was waiting this guy behind me started talking about his neighbor. I think me might have thought I was somebody else, but I listened anyways, because this seemed like something that was really interesting. His neighbor use to be a dispatch driver for this delivery company that delivered stuff to people around this big city. And he was driving once to a call, and there was a herd of goats crossing the road, so he had to stop.

So while he was waiting, he pulled out a novel he’d been reading. Maybe you’ve read this, but maybe you haven’t. It’s a pretty popular novel, and the main character was on some kind of spiritual journey, and he was discovering all these insights and secrets of life through the story.

Kind of like when you read something like this, you start to think there is some kind of deeper meaning here, and you’re not sure what it is. Of course other times when you read this you might be under the impression that the guy who wrote this was making it up as he went along. But for some compelling reason, you can’t help but to come back here again and again to find out what was going to happen next.

Finally, the goats, passed by, and the traffic opened up. I’ve never really seen a herd of goats before, so it must have been an interesting sight. I suppose you could always go back and look if you are interested in that sort of thing.

And by the time this guy was done telling this really weird story, I had decided on a double cone with rocky road. I’ve liked rocky road ever since I was a kid, and it never fails to impress with its delicious chocolaty flavor, and nutty crunch.

I just when I was starting to wrap my mind around this deep philosophical point that Pinker was making his compellingly thought provoking book, this girl came and sat down again. I guess she’d thought up some more questions.

So had a nice little chat, and she seemed to be pretty pleased with herself for starting a conversation with a random stranger in a coffee shop. Like I said, it’s one thing to go up and speak with a random stranger in a coffee shop, but it adds about twenty different aspects of courage if you are to do that in a language that you are just starting to learn.

I never thought I’d be taught a lesson in courage by an eighteen-year-old Japanese college girl, but there you go. The world is filled with good examples like this.

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The Brave Little Gator

Once there was an alligator. He was a small alligator, only a few weeks out of the egg. He was still kind of feeling his way around, only venturing a few meters from his nest. He hadn’t reached the stage where he had to get his own food, as he was still receiving food from his mother. She would periodically leave the nest to go out hunting, and bring back small bites of zebra and kangaroo to feed to the kids. There were sixteen alligators in all. It was a particularly large nest, as most alligator nests only contain seven or so. This alligator mom was particularly lucky with not only the amount of eggs, but that they had all hatched and produced healthy baby alligators. Usually when a mother alligator has so many eggs, there are a few that need to be sacrificed for the good of the many. The mother was quite relieved, to say the least, when she discovered that all of her eggs were healthy.

On the particular day in question of this story, the mom had been gone for longer than normal. She would usually go out for about an hour or so, and then come back with the good. However, it had been over four hours since she left, and they were starting to get hungry, and scared.

“What should we do?”
“Wait. We should wait.”
“I don’t want to wait.”
“But we have to wait. We don’t have any other choice.”
“Maybe she got mad and left us!”
“She didn’t get mad at me, she got mad at you!”
“Did not! Did too!”

And so they previously happy and well taken care of alligator began to argue. Pretty soon, it became dark. The mother alligator still hadn’t returned.

“We are going to die!”
“Maybe she got lost?”
“Maybe she was eaten by another alligator!”
“You idiot, alligators don’t eat each other!”
“She’s lost!”
“How could she get lost, she’ s our mom, she knows everything!”

The more they tried to ignore their hunger and fear in their tiny little alligator nest, the worse it became. Soon they began fighting, and biting each other. Simon, the young alligator who is the focus of this story, decided to climb over the edge of the nest, just to see what was on the other side.

“What are you doing? You want to get killed?”
“I’m just gonna take a look and see what is here.”
“Be careful!”

He climbed up, and looked.

“What do you do see?”
“Nothing, just a bunch of stuff that looks like the same as in here. Except…..bigger. Much bigger.” He had an idea. He looked back down at the young, scared alligators, and then turned to look again at the vastness of the swamp outside of their protective nest.

“Hurry up, and come down before somebody sees you! You’ll get in trouble!”
“I’m not coming down. I’m going out. There has to be food out here, someplace.” Then he disappeared over the edge of the side. The young alligators were horrified. They were sure that he died.

A few days later, two more small alligators climbed up and over the edge, their fear and trepidation overcome by their hunger. They two were never seen again. Another couple of days passed, and a few others got the courage to climb up and over the edge of the next.

A week and a half later, there were only four remains alligators. They were too weak to move by now, and had long given up trying to come up with a reason that their mother had abandoned them. They didn’t noticed when the birds began circling overhead. Nor did they notice, or really care when they came down and perched on the edge of their nest. They had already given themselves up to fate. One by one, the birds leaned in and ate the remaining alligators, until they were all gone.

It only took Simon and his brothers and sisters, a few hours to realize the abundance of food that outside, just waiting to be eaten, waiting to be taken. As Simon grew, and swam through the swamp, his strength and determination increasing with every morsel he hunted, killed, and ate, he realized how wonderful it was to be an alligator. Sometimes he wondered what had happened to his brothers and sisters. But he usually spent his time going after what he wanted. Which was fine with him.


The Courage of the Crow

Once there was a small crow. He lived in a decent sized town, where there was plenty of food. Normally crows that live in the jungle have to worry about other birds, especially young crows like this one. But because this crow lived in the city, he was really only worried about other crows getting the food before he did. He didn’t have any brothers or sisters, so he still depended on his dad to show him where the food was, and to help him get it. One day, his dad landed quietly next to him on the telephone wire where he was sitting.

“Son, we need to have a talk.” His father began.

The young crow didn’t’ like this one bit. You know how it is. When somebody sits down with you and starts with “we need to have a talk,” it never is to tell you that you’ve won the lottery, or school has been canceled or anything else good like that. It’s usually when you got in trouble or some other bad thing is about to happen. You know the feeling.

The young crow gulped. “Yea? About what?”
“Well, son,” the father began, putting his wing around the boy. “You are getting pretty old. I know it’s hard with your mom gone and all, but you need to figure out how to get your own food.” The young crow gasped in shock. Get his own food? That would mean fighting with the other, older bigger crows, wouldn’t it? They would never let him get near the good stuff. He’d have to eat the stuff they didn’t want. His mind instantly swirled with thoughts of being outcast from the crow community, not having any friends, not having any respect. Never being able to grow up and develop a crow family. He became nervous, scared, afraid. Like he was when he still lived in the nest, and his mom would bring him food. He missed her.

“But why can’t you help me?” he asked his dad.
“You need to learn how to get food for yourself.” The dad said, and prepared to fly away.
“Where are you going? How will I know what to do?” the young crow asked in desperation.
“You will find a way. You are a crow. You will know.” With that he left.

For the next few days, the young crow was too afraid to go down where the other, bigger crows were pecking through the trash and having their fill of large pieces of discarded food. The more he watched the other crows, the more frightened he became. He hadn’t eaten in several days, and he was becoming weak. Surely if he tried to get some of the food, even the leftovers that the crows didn’t want, they would easily chase him away. Even worse. He noticed that the crows were starting to look at him, and he was sure they were talking about him.

After another couple days of sitting, and watching, and imagining the certain horrible death he would experience if he tried to get some food, he reached the breaking point. The point that you realize you have to do something. You have to make a choice, and follow through with your choice. Because if you don’t act, you will certainly fail. The young crow got to the point where the pain of inaction was getting larger than any imagined pain of action. Summoning all of his energy and courage, he opened his wings and glided down, landing clumsily next to the trash heap. He was more than a little surprised when a couple of bigger, stronger crows jumped, startled, when he landed. The young crow took a deep breath, expanding his lungs, making himself appear slightly larger.

The two nearest crows hopped back, just a little bit, eyeing him carefully. One of them bent down and leaned toward a piece of meat. The young crow immediately hopped forward, not questioning where his sudden strength and courage came from, only accepting them. He reached the piece of meat before the other crow and stood, meat in beak, staring at them defiantly. He quickly gobbled the meat down. He looked around the trash heap, and found a piece of meat, then another, and then another. Finally having eaten his fill, he hopped back into the shade, and watched the other crows feed.

When the other crows were finished eating, they hopped over into the shade. After exchanging introductions, they explained the schedule.

“On Tuesdays and Fridays are when they throw away the good stuff.  The rest of the days is glass and other stuff that we can’t eat.”

“What do you do on the days in between?” The other crows looked at each other and smiled.
“C’mon, we’ll show you.” And they all flew of together.

Several months later, the young crow, who was rapidly becoming not so young, happened across his father on telephone wire.


“What did you learn?”

“That fear is only your imagination. As soon as you face fear, it disappears.”
“Very good, son. Do you know why I didn’t just tell you that?”

The not so young crow thought, and remembered how startled he’d been when he’d first discovered his courage.

“The only way to know something like that is to experience it, yourself.”
“Very good, son. You now know the secret.”

They both sat in silence for several minutes, until the not so young crow saw his new friends flying high across the sky. He looked briefly to his father, bowed his head quickly in respect, and then took off.


Boldly Speak Your Truth

I remember when I was in third grade. I had a huge crush on my teacher. One day we were doing this math problem, which when I think about it was like those sudoku puzzles that have become popular in the past several years. It was some kind of math puzzle, and she had told the class she was having a contest to see who was the fastest. Because I was madly in love with her, (despite her husband) I was determined to win. I raced through the puzzle, certain that I would be the fastest. I double checked my answers to make sure they were correct. I was about raise my hand when something incredibly unexpected happened. I froze. The room was quiet. I looked around at all my classmates furiously working on their puzzles. The room was silent. Our teacher was looking at us with a look only a teacher can give. My heart was pounding in my chest. I willed my hand to move but it didn’t. I was about to lose my chance to win the love of my third grade teacher.

My other friend, who was in a different class was from my boy scout troop. We would go on these hiking trips once a month, and get to camp out. It was fantastic. I had just joined the boy scouts, and had just been introduced into the world of camping away from parents. It was kind of scary at first, but once we got up into the mountains, it was fantastic. We would hike for a few hours, and then find a nice place to camp. Once we set up camp we would go exploring. Sometimes we didn’t find much interesting, but once we found a rattlesnake coiled up against a rock. Normally my friend is terrified of snakes, but for some reason, out there in the wilderness, after hiking up a steep mountain trail, we were somehow able to feel less afraid. It was kind of like our fear transformed itself into curiosity.

It’s strange when that happens. You see this thing, and if you are not careful, all you think about is the bad things that can happen regarding it. But the secret is when you see this, in front of you, you can become curious. Curiosity is a wonderful thing to have. It can help you discover new things, and figure out problems, and overcome obstacles. All you have to do is step back from your fear, and see this as an opportunity.

Which is what we did with that snake. We didn’t get to close, but we found a long branch that had fallen of a tree. We took turns prodding the snake, and making it strike towards the branch. Naturally, we got in big trouble when we came back to camp. I guess adults in boy scouts get kind of upset when boys go off on their own and play with poisonous reptiles. But it was an experience I’ll never forget. We saw something that normally would have terrified us, but because of our shared experience, we were able to look at this with fascination and learning.

So I finally raised my hand, and if I thought I was in love with my teacher before, wow. The approving look she gave me and the wonderful feeling I felt when she told me I got the perfect answer in front of the class was one of the greatest third grade experiences that day. All from breaking through my imagined fears and boldly speaking up.


Follow The Yellow Brick Road

“Yea, but I’m not sure if you understand what I mean.”
“I think I have a general idea of what you mean.”
“I’m starting to think you really don’t.”
“So tell me again, what is it exactly that you think you mean?”
“Ok. I went into the bank.”
“Did you want to get a loan?”
“No, no, that was last week.”
“Did the loan come through yet?”
“Well, yea, I mean, no, not yet, but it’s guaranteed.”
“You mean like guaranteed, guaranteed?”
“No, not like that, I mean, I should get it, it’s just a matter of time.”
“I got ya. So what’s the problem. What happened today?”
“Well, I was about to ask the teller about the hair thing she was wearing…”
“Hair thing?”
“Yea, you know, those things they wear in the back, like some giant pony tail clip, but it has like a design on it or something…”
“Yea, I know what you’re talking about. I bought one for my girlfriend once.”
“No, no my ex girlfriend, from like three years ago.”
“Oh, yea, ok. I remember her. Cheryl, right?”
“Oh yea. You still talk?”
“No, not really. Not like we’re mad. The split was cool and everything.”
“So you never see her?”
“Sometimes, I saw her at the club a few weeks ago.”
“The club? I thought you said you quit that a long time ago? Too loud or something?”
“No..no… I saw her at the gym.”
“Got it.”
“So tell me about this girl with a clipboard?”
“A clip, man a clip.”
“What, a paper clip? You got yelled at by a girl with a paper clip?”
“No, dude, one of those clips in her hair.”
“Oh, yea. Ok. So why’d she yell at you?”
“I don’t know. That’s the thing. On the hair clip were all those old wizard of oz dudes.”
“You mean like the lion and the scarecrow, and that other metal guy?”
“The tin man.”
“Yea, the tin man.”
“So which one is your favorite?”
“The lion, dude, the lion.”
“Why the lion?”
“Cause he always had his courage inside the whole time, and he finally figured out.”
“Yea, that is cool. So what did Miss Oz say to you that upset you so much?”
“Well nothing really.”
“What do you mean, nothing really?”
“Well I was just going to tell her I liked her head clip oz thing, and she turned and said ‘HANG ON!'”
“Did you ask her what she meant?”
“I didn’t get a chance, because she hung up the phone and stormed off.”
“Um, wait a sec. She was on the phone?”
“Well, yea.”
“So she looked at you when she said that? Pointed at you or something, right?”
“Well not really.”
“So how did you know she was yelling at you and not at some guy over the phone?”
“She yelled at me the exact same way my mom used to yell at me when I was a kid.”
“And you think she went out of her way to research your past and dig up some secret recordings and listen to them and practice screaming just like your mom used to, and then sat there and waited, and pretended to be on the phone? And..”
“And she even found out you liked the cowardly lion so she wore that specific hair oz clipboard thing on purpose just to lure you in so she could lower the boom on you and then stomp off without even waiting to see how you’d respond?”
“Well when you put it like that…”
“Dude, you should go offer an apology and an invitation to go see The Wizard of Oz, there’s a special showing tonight over at The Triplex.”
“Dude, really? Tonight? The Triplex? That place over the Anderson’s?”
“No, dude, that’s the duplex. You want the Triplex, over on 17th.”
“Hmm. Yea, that’s a pretty idea, man. I think I’ll do that.”
“Well you better hurry up before whatever guy was on the phone changes his mind.”
“Jeez, you’re right. See ya around man. Thanks.”