Courage and cowardice in the culture game

Julius Caesar knew a thing or two about the culture game. He managed the dominant club of his league. He successfully challenged every other team around Europe and the Middle East in his day. And he played some aggressive away fixtures in pre-Christian Britain that the Anglosphere still talks about today.

He impressed one social media commentator enough to tweet: ‘the cowards die many times before their deaths; the valiant never taste of death but once.’ That was Billy Shakespeare, captain and coach of Stratford United and the Southwark All-stars, whom he led to the UEFA culture cup in 1599.

A class of people called The Discouraged

A tall story, of course. But let your historical imagination wander for a moment. In the early to mid 1800s, long before the formalisation of the social sciences, street urchins in particular, but the dispossessed in general, were called The Discouraged. The term described a class of people who lacked the resources, or were denied the energy and resilience to claw their way back from deprivation and denial.

Britain’s first industrial revolution from roughly 1760 to 1840 enshrined poet and visionary William Blake’s ‘dark satanic mills.’ This was a despairing, and later inspiring, code describing the mechanisation that displaced traditional manual crafts. In less than a century, water and coal-driven steam power destroyed many of the manual livelihoods that had sustained civilisation for millennia.

Little wonder that an entire spectrum of skilled and semi-skilled artisans and their children became discouraged.

Cultural intelligence and resilience

Encourage is a beautiful word. In its fullest sense it means much more than to give a word of advice or a helping hand in time of need. Literally, encourage means to embolden, or make brave. But rather than emboldening troops in battle, cultural intelligence sees courage in the sense of resilience; of getting back on your feet and starting afresh when life or fate has knocked you down.

Cultural intelligence also sees courage less as defeating someone or something, but more the process of getting through or bouncing back from adversity.

Circle of Courage

Mahana Culture has long used the Circle of Courage model in teaching the value of courage in a cultural context. The model comes from a Native American tradition, and our personal friendship with one of its authors, Martin Brokenleg. An elder of the Lakota culture of North America, Martin is a psychologist and author, and was a professor of Native American Studies in South Dakota for 30 years.

The Circle of Courage describes the four essentials children need to attain to become functional, responsible, and courageous adults:

  1. Belonging — identification with a group or community with shared principles and values based on loving and being loved
  2. Mastery — learned skills and control in mental, physical, social, and spiritual engagement and activities
  3. Generosity — learning and practising the art of sharing and giving joyfully without expectation of reward
  4. Independence — achieving a level of personal goal-setting and personal responsibility where the consequences of both success and failure are understood and willingly accepted.

While the circle focuses on children, and has been highly successful in action in the US and South Africa, it’s as well to remember that it applies equally to adults throughout life. We can all too easily forget these principles, or become distracted by circumstances, even in maturity and parenthood.

In terms of culture, courage is close to the concept of awakening. It takes courage to find out who you are especially if your cultural tale has been attenuated or even crushed. It also takes courage to fill what for many is a cultural deficit in ethnicity, family history, or personal identity, including coming to terms with issues such as mental illness or depression.

In Australia particularly, we can see how important cultural courage is for young indigenous people where ritual and tribal culture has to share, and often compete with, cultures a long way removed from traditional beliefs.

If you could use an injection of courage finding and telling your cultural tale, call Tavale Ilalio at Mahana Culture on 0428 504 240.

Article written by: Roger McDonald and Gregg Morris, co-facilitator of Mahana Culture’s Culture Connects program