I recently asked a teenage girl what she wanted the courage to do.
“Let go of some old friends,” she said.
When I asked her why she hadn’t been able to do that, she replied, “because I don’t want to come across as mean.”
This answer may seem basic, but nope. It isn’t. What this teenager, and thousands of other youth like her, really means is, I am reluctant to make the healthiest, most honest-to-goodness choices for myself if it means disrupting harmony within my social circles – even if the harmony is harmful.
Did you catch that?
Many youth end up rejecting truth and growth inside them in an attempt to keep the peace around them.
Eagerness to sidestep external disruption is understandable and instinctive. But, disruption is a tricky little thing in matters of personal courage. Dodging tension on the outside sets up an unwelcome invitation for tension on the inside.
This means: disruption is unavoidable in circumstances that require courage, and encounters with it will either be external or internal.
So, the question for youth is, “which type of disruption do I choose?” (Hint: it shouldn’t be internal.)
This type of disruption is like a wave of guilt and worry that antes up when youth act in a way that doesn’t vibe with their personal values and truth. That often includes choosing awkward silent or reluctant agreement in order to maintain things as they are, like the teenage girl did. Despite their outside world remaining the same, their inside state is increasingly cluttered with confusion and unease. What’s worse is that prolonged internal disruption sets youth up for stunted development, mediocrity and regret.
So, why is this even a choice? Youth end up choosing internal disruption when they focus on what they might lose (a friendship) instead of on what they might gain (a stronger sense of self). They choose internal disruption when they haven’t figured out (or haven’t accepted) that expressing the realest, illest, truest version of themselves is far more worthy, important and long-lasting than external conflicts they may encounter.
External disruption is a side-effect of acting with courage and upsetting the status quo. In matters of personal courage, external disruption happens when youth side with themselves, especially when siding with themselves is unpopular or unconventional. Making the courageous decision to let an old friend go could lead to ridicule, isolation or hate – none of which are easy to deal with, but none of which are unconquerable.
So, what’s the problem with youth choosing external disruption? Many youth find it difficult to choose themselves above other people’s comfort and expectations because, unlike internal disruption, external disruption is visible, and therefore, hard to ignore. It’s palpability makes dealing with it everything but optional. External disruption requires youth to have skills, confidence and a worthy cause to believe in and rely on when criticism spikes and unease mounts. Without these resources, youth often find it easier to dismiss their internal turmoil to avoid agitating external conditions.
Disruption is unavoidable when it comes to personal courage. Whether youth know it or not, they’re always choosing disruption. The question is, which kind of disruption are they choosing? My work as a speaker and mentor is to help youth build up necessary tools of courage in order to choose external disruption for the sake of internal harmony.