Amanda Berry, Gina DeJesus, and Michelle Knight's courage through fear

Parents have a powerful reason to talk to kids about how courage can be all about running away, after Ohio Gov. John Kasich presented medals to kidnapping victims Amanda Berry, Gina de Jesus, and Michelle Knight during his annual State of the State address.

Tony Dejak/AP
Ohio Gov. John Kasich, from left, talks with Amanda Berry, Gina DeJesus, and Michelle Knight after they received the Governor's Courage Award, during Mr. Kasich's State of the State address at the Performing Arts Center in Medina, Ohio, on Monday, Feb. 24, 2014.

Today we have a powerful reason to talk to kids about how courage can be all about running away, after Ohio Gov. John Kasich presented medals for courage to the three women who survived imprisonment in a Cleveland house after being kidnapped.

After reading about the courage shown by Amanda Berry, Gina de Jesus, and Michelle Knight to escape from captivity last May, parents can tell kids the Cowardly Lion from the “Wizard of Oz” had it right, because he recognized danger, ran from it, and still rescued himself and his friends.

As parents of younger children, we might prefer to tell the story of the Cowardly Lion to younger kids, rather than the story of how Governor Kasich came to present his annual Courage Awards on Monday to the kidnapping victims during his annual State of the State address.

The three were rescued last May after being kidnapped from the streets of Cleveland between 2002 and 2004, at the ages of 14, 16, and 20, according to the Associated Press.

The first time that most of us heard of the news was the recording of Berry’s call to 911 after she broke free from the house, her voice quivering with terror.

Kids, and adults alike, often fail to realize that courage doesn’t mean being unafraid, nor does it only apply to spectacular stunts like running into a burning building to save a kitten.

As the fictional Dr. Who once explained, “Courage isn't a matter of not being frightened, you know. It's being afraid and doing what you have to do anyway.”

That is a quote I wish I’d heard as a child because nobody ever told me that being afraid could be part of being courageous.

I remember being told to “find your courage” when I was crying over being afraid of the clown at a birthday party, or when I didn’t want to try swimming in the ocean.

Over the years as a parent, I’m sure I have said similar things to any one of my four sons.

They too were introduced to a light-hearted notion of courage via “The Wizard of Oz” and the Cowardly Lion, who sings:

Courage! What makes a king out of a slave? Courage! What makes the flag on the mast to wave? Courage! What makes the elephant charge his tusk in the misty mist, or the dusky dusk? What makes the muskrat guard his musk? Courage! What makes the sphinx the seventh wonder? Courage! What makes the dawn come up like thunder? Courage! What makes the Hottentot so hot? What puts the "ape" in apricot? What have they got that I ain't got?

From the Cowardly Lion in the film, kids learn that cowardice equals fear and bravery means a lack of fear.

Following the Cowardly Lion, I have come to the conclusion that we need to bring our kids back from Oz and teach them the truth. Being afraid shouldn’t stop them from showing their courage, but should instead be the fuel that gets them to a better, safer place.

Many times a day, all over America, children just like ours are exhibiting bravery worthy of a medal, and all the while beating themselves up inside thinking they are weak cowards, because they are afraid.

I have met kids in our community surviving horrors of poverty, hunger, homelessness, and bullying.

Too often I have heard counselors telling them their heroism comes from facing the horror over and over again and adapting as they look for ways up and out. 

My kids and I volunteering through our church to help the homeless, and the hardest part is seeing homeless teens and young adults who don’t ask for help because they think that makes them weak.

The truth is, kids need to know that asking for help shows your strength. Meeting that help half-way, as Amanda Berry did, is very brave.

I wonder if we avoid teaching our kids how to survive hardship because we don’t want to scare them. Perhaps we don’t want to scare ourselves by admitting that something could happen that we could not fix for our kids.

It is better to be brave and prepare our children for what to do if they need to rescue themselves.

We need to let kids know that we don’t have to run into the danger to be a hero. 

Sometimes we just have to hang on and stay cool until it’s time to run away.

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