With Courage

I recently stumbled upon an online review of Psyche and Soul in America: The Spiritual Odyssey of Rollo May by Robert H. Abzug, a biography of legendary existential psychotherapist Rollo May, whose therapeutic style and way of being in general have resonated with me since studying him in graduate school. A couple of passages in the review particularly stood out to me and led to my decision to pick up a copy of Abzug’s work, which I’m currently about midway through and enjoying very much.

In one of May’s own books, The Courage to Create, he speaks to the issue of despair, as did I in a recent post. And when defining courage and its relationship to despair, May suggests the following, which I have framed and displayed on a small table next to my desk at home:

This courage will not be the opposite of despair. We shall often be faced with despair, as indeed every sensitive person has been during the last several decades in this country. Hence Kierkegaard and Nietzsche and Camus and Sartre have proclaimed that courage isn’t the absence of despair; it is, rather, the capacity to move ahead in spite of despair.

Nor is the courage required mere stubbornness—we shall surely have to create with others. But if you do not express your own original ideas, if you do not listen to your own being, you will have betrayed yourself. Also you will have betrayed our community in failing to make your contribution to the whole.

I’ve read and reread it many times, and what never gets lost on me is the fact that it was published in 1975—nearly fifty years ago now as of this writing. Times have changed since then, of course, but it remains that existence never ceases to present its challenges despite our sincere efforts to eradicate them. Seeing that I certainly consider May to have been a sensitive person himself and that he died back in 1994—shortly after the world wide web went public and a few years before the first social media site was launched—I can’t help but wonder what he might have to say about the courage required to navigate our current environment if he were still alive today.

May, R. (1975). The courage to create. New York, NY: W.W. Norton & Company, Inc. (pp. 2–3)