Last year I did an interview that was consequential, to put it lightly.
The photographer, Busola Dakolo shared a powerful story with me about alleged rape by a prominent Nigerian pastor. The case hasn’t been proven by any court of law, but the effects of telling that story continue to this day, on some level.
So much so that even though I stopped talking about it publicly almost immediately after doing the interview, I continue to be asked earnestly about it. Of the many questions, one is the all-time favourite: “Was there any hesitation on your part in doing that story?”
To this question, I am quick to answer, because the answer is very simple: No.
No, there was no hesitation on my part, and I also do not believe in performing reluctance. Once it was asked, I knew I would do it. It was as simple as that.
We delayed releasing that interview, for a number of weeks, I think. But only for the sake of the woman who was telling the story. She was formidable. She was fearless. She had counted the cost and carefully considered the decision. But I have been blessed to have faced the most scalding public criticism from as young as my early 20s, I figured that – especially for unjustified vitriol – there is almost nothing that can truly prepare you for it. No one is really prepared until they face it.
For myself? I had no worries. And I was fascinated by the hysteria surrounding me from people who meant well. “Protect yourself.” “Fortify yourself.” It made me smile. Not because I thought it was unwarranted (I am not naïve) but because I found it exaggerated.
Doing important things in life requires risk. They require being ready to lose something if it comes to that. They require committing to something larger than self. The living of a meaningful life compels the acceptance of consequence. I have always been clearly aware – and accepting – of that.
There was a time when I would wonder why it had to be so, and be resentful that one had to be ready to pay some form of price to do what one believes to be meaningful. But that time has thankfully passed. Now I embrace the idea of risk or consequence – even to the point of loving it. Life is a fascinating place, a fascinating journey. Its twists and turns, its curves and chances and all the opportunities that they present for growth: there is something truly beautiful about all of it. Those are the things that give it meaning.
And courage is the best way to participate in that meaning. Courage, I believe, is the only currency with which one can get access to a life well-lived.
“Courage,” the immortal Maya Angelou has written, “(is) the most important of all virtues because without courage you can’t practice any other virtue consistently.”
Courage matters dearly in this world. It is perhaps the greatest gift one can give to one’s spirit, I have written before. It is an affirmation that one understands the significance of one’s life. That you appreciate the depth and breadth to which your life can matter. Courage is the muscle of a mind and heart and spirit attuned to the wonders and endlessness of life. To the magic of being. To the exultation of one’s own reality, and that of the rest of us.
Courage is proof that one truly understands what it means to live.
By this, I don’t mean bravado – not the performance of fearlessness; that puffing of the chest that seeks to show others ‘what we are made of.’ That one is often the manifestation of some other kind of fear – the fear that we are not good enough, or that others will not see that we matter.
Courage in its essence, or the way that I have seen it approach me, doesn’t announce itself. It doesn’t need to. Just its existence is enough. It is both means and end. It is both call and response, action and reward. It is quiet, firm, resolute, confident, complete.
Courage is deeply spiritual. It is a gift from self to self. It is a spirit instructing form. It is personhood in its fullest, deepest expression.
Every time I have made a courageous decision – not a blustery one, but a quiet, definite one from the total conviction of the spirit – it has paid off. It has paid off in worldly significance surprisingly, even if I have had to pay a huge price in the short term (Fortune does indeed have a soft spot for the bold), but more importantly, it has paid in internal security that no one can take. It makes me like myself, respect myself, and be at peace with myself.
Yes, courage brings peace.
The courage of organizing the #EnoughisEnough protests. The courage of speaking out my deepest convictions on LGBTQI rights. The courage of turning my back on treasured contacts in the highest levels of government for the things I believe in over and over again. The courage of losing business because I wanted to take a stand. The courage of stepping down as chief executive of a company that had given me all I had; stepping into the unknown. The courage of being different, being truly myself, making my own choices for my own self despite what that pesky thing called society seeks to demand. The courage of living life on one’s own terms – perhaps the scariest and most important courage that there is. All those small pockets of courage have given me peace.
Of course, I still have fear. Because somewhere inside me remains that desire for safety, for comfort, for the familiar. Sometimes I indulge it. Sometimes I think I can’t avoid it. I shrink from the big questions and avert my eyes from big answers.
Thankfully, more times than not, I refuse to respect it.
And that’s what I did when I said a resolute yes to doing that interview last year, only asking for one more day to check with my spirit in prayer. Of course, it was for a cause. It was for a world that can and should be better. But it was also – just as importantly – for the exultation of my own spirit.
And with that yes came the peace that passes all human understanding. Because I had said yes to Life itself.
Chude Jideonwo is host of the TV and radio network #WithChude, which is creating safe spaces for conversations about mental, emotional and spiritual health across Africa. He is also co-founder of human flourishing company, Joy, Inc.