For generations, L. Frank Baum’s classic story, The Wizard of Oz, has been etched into our collective childhood memories. Now the famous line, “Toto, I have a feeling we’re not in Kansas, anymore,” has passed into popular vernacular to describe the wonder of encountering a new and unfamiliar place or opportunity. Each of the story’s central characters represents a quest we’re all on and a discovery that’s essential for each of us to make.
Dorothy realizes what she longs for is not a fantasy or adventure in some exotic place, but the meaningful relationships defining home. Like many things about this early 1900s allegorical saga, the fact that the story centers on a heroine who gradually recognizes her untapped leadership potential, shows the farsighted respect Baum possessed for what then signified “the fairer sex.” Remember, it’s Dorothy who inspires and encourages three fellow travelers to join in her dream quest. Plus, she faces down the wicked witch and pulls back the curtain to expose Oz’s leading citizen, putting each in their place.
Dorothy’s companions give us valuable insight into what typically holds us back or we think we lack: intellect, passion and courage. It’s Dorothy’s faith, persistence and willingness to lead, even though Oz is outside her comfort zone, that brings hope, realization and confidence to everyone. As Ginni Rometty of IBM once said, “I learned to always take on things I have never done before. Growth and comfort do not coexist.”
If I Only Had A…
For Dorothy, the brainless scarecrow remains closest to her heart. When pursuing our dreams, this is the quality most of us think we don’t have enough of to succeed.
The Tin Woodman searches for the second life essential, a heart. When push comes to shove, in every endeavor of life, the Tinman is right: passion carries us through the day. As Beethoven said, “To play a wrong note is insignificant; to play without passion is inexcusable.” If you’re not sure about the power of passion and heart, watch the movies “Rudi” or “Eddie the Eagle,” and ask yourself why each is so inspiring. Science continues to uncover how our mindsets align neuropathways, shaping how we perceive and interpret reality, either positively or negatively.
As crucial as each is separately, intellect and passion must intertwine to turn into action. And only one thing can do that — courage. It’s the Cowardly Lion who completes the triad and is actually at the center of all the other qualities.
C.S. Lewis, author of the Chronicles of Narnia and a host of various philosophical and theological works, made the same point: “Courage,” he wrote, “is not simply one of the virtues, but the form of every virtue at the testing point.”
Every attribute, quality or value that we esteem is a lofty sentiment or elusive ideal unless activated by courage. What good is hope, if at that crucial moment when belief is required, we cave into despair? Or what is the benefit of honesty, if we find it’s safer and more convenient to shade the truth when the heat is on? Courage is that compass focusing us away from our feelings or circumstances and directing us toward purposes or ideas higher than ourselves. Which is why, in every culture and throughout history, it’s one of the qualities we celebrate.
Most of us are well intended, but the tires giving traction to our intentions are usually daring acts. What carries these intentions that begin nobly to a meaningful and lasting conclusion? It’s undoubtedly the courage to persevere through the inevitable difficulties, obstacles and setbacks that always stand between a vision’s conception and its realization.
There aren’t any courses on courage that I know of, nor is there a group you can join that will convey courage upon you, like Toastmasters that helps you with public speaking. However, when you hang around courageous people, their courage infects you. In fact, the word encouragement means to put or add courage to someone. On the other hand, discouragement comes from hanging around anxious people, who will fill you with apprehension, excessive caution and, ultimately, paralysis.
Of course, the presence of fear is not what makes one a coward. Mountain climbers and battle-hardened soldiers experience fear. It’s how each manages and directs fear that makes them so admirable. As the naval officer Admiral Halsey said, “There are no great men. There are only ordinary men who, because of extraordinary circumstances, are forced to meet great challenges.” Most of us, like the Cowardly Lion, find reservoirs of courage we didn’t know existed when faced with situations that are beyond us.