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Episode 099: A Conversation on Inclusivity and Empathy with Courageous Fire

Conversations on Conversations with Courageous Fire

Join Sarah Noll Wilson and guest Courageous Fire as they delve into the challenges faced by Black women in predominantly white spaces. Courageous shares insights into her journey of embracing authenticity and self worth, highlighting the power of vulnerability, trust, and empathy in building inclusive spaces.

Courageous Fire is a Black woman and diligent part of the workforce who learned it was important to have a safe space to do safety planning, what it looked like to get help outside the workplace during the crisis of domestic violence, how far reaching the cost of DV is to health, how disruptive it is to work performance, how expensive it can be for years into the future, and how uniquely this health, economic, social justice issue specifically impacts Black women.

Once Courageous executed her plan to free herself and her daughters, she began to furiously RESEARCH. She wanted to find and/or create the best solutions. She wanted to know if she could find employer partners to create spaces within the work environment for safety planning if she provided the training and materials. She wanted to know if they realized how much money she could save them in employee absenteeism and healthcare costs if she provided them with cultural resources for their Black women employees. And she wanted to teach them how to utilize their position in Black women DV victim-survivor’s lives to be disruptors of the oftentime end result of DV – homicide.

She began Courageous Fire, LLC nearly 5 years ago to educate with a concentration on two distinct groups – Centers of Trust and Centers of Must – to increase the spaces where Black women can be treated with dignity, compassion, and stop being refused services or having services terminated for showing up fully as a Black woman during crisis. Courageous has always known her work would need to broaden to mitigate the harm of systems holding Black women accountable for the perpetrator’s violence against them and their children. That’s why she is moving toward those state-operated systems in her collaborative work with organizations such as Iowa Department of Health and Human Services, Children and Families of Iowa, and Safe and Together Institute to make that happen.

Nearly 5 years later, Courageous has successfully charted relationships with over 30 organizations to increase safe spaces for Black women. These places in Iowa include many cities: Waterloo, Dubuque, Davenport, Iowa City, Decorah, Cedar Rapids, Ankeny, and Des Moines, as well as Illinois and New York. In this time she has 1 organization that has set up a place for safety planning, but she knows there are many more needed.

Courageous is a consultant, trainer, and women’s empowerment speaker who comes with 12+ years of curriculum development and delivery experience, 6+ years as a motivational speaker, and 5+ years of independent studies in historical and systemic racial impact on Black women in DV. She often says her approach is never “shame on you!” which closes people down, but instead it is one of “did you know?” to give people a safe place for consideration. Courageous is aware that there is a temptation to assume how a Black woman will “teach”, but experience has shown her that knowledge, authenticity, and comfort with who she is creates a safe for her audience to be comfortable with themselves while they learn, question, seek, discard, relearn, and grow. She comes ready to invite everyone that attends that level of #permission.

TRANSCRIPT

Sarah Noll Wilson  

Hello and welcome to this week’s episode of conversations on conversations where each week we explore a topic to help us have more powerful conversations with ourselves and others. I’m your host, Sarah Noll Wilson, and joining me today for a very important conversation is my new friend and colleague, Courageous Fire, and I’m so excited for you to hear this conversation. While we recorded it a few weeks ago, it felt timely for us to release on Juneteenth. So June 19. So let me tell you a little bit about Courageous and then you’re going to learn a lot about her in our conversation and I’m so excited for you to meet her. Courageous Fire is a lot of things, but there are two parts of her identity she loves to share wherever she is. Number one is her authenticity, choosing to show up as fully herself everywhere, every single time. And she’s going to give us some strategies for how we can do the same. Number two is seeking out those in her encounters who need a level of permission. Permission to love themselves, permission to say no, permission not to know. Courageous is eager and honor to open those gifts with you today. So my friends, please enjoy this conversation between Courageous and myself. 

 

Courageous, on this glorious Friday afternoon, my friend, welcome to the show.

 

Courageous Fire  

Thank you, Sarah. I’m so glad to be here, and I just have to say thank you for being a person with a very rare gift of being able to listen immersively and still listen actively. I appreciate that most about you so far.

 

Sarah Noll Wilson  

Oh, thank you so much. What else should people know about you, my dear?

 

Courageous Fire  

I was born for real seven years ago, and so the version of me that people are meeting really is a very new and brand spanking new sea legs, trying out, um, version of me which excites me and energizes me.

 

Sarah Noll Wilson  

That’s so beautiful. And we’ll get, you know, we’ll, we’ll explore a little bit of your story, as much as you want to share. I, I we’ve lived in the same city for you know, I’ve been here 24 years, and we only just crossed paths a few months ago. We met at an event, and let me tell you folks, how I was introduced to her. We’re going around this room of incredible women who are being recognized. Maybe they were recognized in the past for this award and talking about why they’re there and what they’re passionate about. And we’ve probably gone through 35 women or so, and Courageous gets on the microphone and so, something to the effect, I won’t say it as eloquently as you did, something to the effect of, if you just need to be witnessed and heard, and need to share something that’s hard, come see me and I’m here for you. Something like that. That was it. That’s how you introduced and I was just like, damn, who is this woman? I need to, I need to meet her. And so thus began a series of conversations, and now some collaborations, and this conversation is just so long overdue. So I mean, I mean I can’t just keep talking about you, because people need to experience you, but I feel like I’m just gonna just be like, let me, let me keep telling you how I will go to the church of Courageous (laughter) whenever I can. And I’m not a religious person, but so so talk, talk to us about, talk to us about your journey. Like, let’s, let’s start with what has inspired the deep work you do to help people call forth more of their humanity, to – and we’ll get into the centers of trust and must, because I really there’s, there’s there’s so many things we’ve talked about that I want to bring into this conversation. But what has shaped you in your journey to do the important work you do

 

Courageous Fire  

At my age, which is 55 and I’m always so proud to say my age. I know that a lot of women are like, oh, you know, you don’t tell that, but oh my god, if you’re me, yeah, you do tell that. I earned every one of those 55 years. So I’m proud to say that, and I hope that as people see my life, that gives them hope for their own, that things don’t end unless you put a period at the end of that sentence. But my, I said that because 2020 is when I realized I was black and a woman, and what that really, really means. That might sound crazy, because that was only four years ago. I was already over 50. But literally, 2020 was what gave me the fuel to, that I just could not shut off to get busy with what it is I wanted to do in my work. It was such a time of discovery. I have two daughters, and they also discovered what that meant to be black females, not just African American, not just people of color, but what does this mean? How at risk am I because I’m a black female, and this is America, and I think you know, when you’re shut off from the world and you’re only having conversations with each other, we almost became, well, no, we did. We became a sisterhood in that house together. And it was just like, Well, wait a minute. I didn’t see this about our plight. Well, I never noticed this. And it was vulnerable. It was scary. There were times that my daughters comforted me. It was just, it was there was just a lot of discovery in that time, and in hearing them and watching the rest of the world and watching the rest of Des Moines, I had to say, All right, well, I was going to start my work just dealing with survivors that were women. Now I understand why it has to be survivors who are black women. That’s where it started.

 

Sarah Noll Wilson  

It’s, it’s, it’s, I mean, I’ll just be really honest. I know that for so many people, and specifically so many white people 2020 was a reckoning. You know, of people going, I thought I knew, but I don’t, I didn’t, and it never occurred to me that what that there would be a similar, albeit different kind of revelation for you as well. What, and you know, as always, right, feel free to answer or not. I can’t help but wonder about, you know what, what opened up for you in in that time, and also, like, maybe what got added to the weight that you were carrying at that time? Like, I mean, really the question is, like, I’m like, I can only imagine how that might have been painful, but I don’t know that that’s the right language.

 

Courageous Fire  

No, I, oh, thank you for asking about, asking about what opened up and then where was the weight put on? Right? So the opening up part was that if that many people around the world who weren’t black could open up and use their voices about our experience, then maybe I wouldn’t be yelling all alone if I opened up too. So it was, it was definitely a level of permission. I remember me and my youngest daughter going to a Walgreens, and I remember, you know, at this point, you know, they had the little red dots on the floor and spaced them out six feet, right? So everybody knew, don’t be too close to people and wear your mask and blah, blah, blah. And you know this, this was a white lady who was behind us without a mask. And literally, she was so close I could feel her breath on my shoulder, right? And in that time, that’s just scary, because, –

 

Sarah Noll Wilson  

Yeah.

 

Courageous Fire  

People were dying, in big numbers at this point. There was no work going on, there was no school going on, nothing was happening. So if the world was still shut down, it must be a really big deal. And as you know, a mother who is, I’m a single mom, my money is the only money that comes into the house. I’m not trying to get covid And I’m not trying to have anything happen to me. So her breath on my arm felt threatening to me.

 

Sarah Noll Wilson  

Sure.

 

Courageous Fire  

And I turned around and I said, Hey, I’m gonna need you. And this wasn’t even how I used to talk to people before this time. So, you know, giving you some context, I’m like, I’m going to need you to move back to that dot back there. And the the normal way I would have responded would have been, “Gee, do you think it’s okay if you such and such and such.” It would have been very apologetic. It would have been very meek, and almost like I was bothering her would have been my approach, but I didn’t do it that way. I was just like, No, I’m gonna need you to go back there. And so she’s like, Oh, I’m sorry. She starts fishing around in her purse, like she’s digging for her mask, and she steps back just enough for me to stop feeling her breath. But she doesn’t go back to the dot. She doesn’t put on her mask, and she’s like, Oh yeah, I forget about these things. You know, I just don’t even think about it. And then I heard a click in her head. Literally, I heard it of, did I just say I’m sorry to this woman? I don’t have to apologize to her. And what was with her tone anyway? Like I heard the switch of privilege in that moment, I heard it, and then she was like, Well, you didn’t have to be so rude. And then I heard my own switch that I had never heard this way before, 2020, and I spun around, and I said, I don’t have to be nice to you. You’re threatening the safety and health of me and my daughter, and I don’t have to be nice about that. Now you need to go ahead and move back to that spot. And she was like, Oh God, here we go with the Black Lives Matter bullshit. I lost it. I cussed that woman five different ways, it, but I still remember feeling like in that moment, I had the right to be loud without worrying about whether I looked aggressive. I had the right to say, you will respect what I just said. And then when the manager came and told both of us we had to leave the store, I felt I had permission and the right to say, Why am I leaving the store when she’s breaking your policy and when she’s threatening me and my daughter’s safety? Now, I didn’t win, and that’s often the case, but in that moment, it was a small victory for me to open up. If something’s happening, and it’s happening to me, I now feel like I have permission to open up, and how can I share that permission? The ways that I gained a lot of weight that year was people going in my inbox, people texting me, people calling me, all of these were people that knew me on Facebook, that were white, people that I worked with that were white, that wanted me to be their encyclopedia and walk them through what they should do differently, what they should say differently, how they should respond differently. And I was just like, wow, this is exhausting, and the the times of day were just crazy, the times of night were crazy, the insistence and the the weight of wanting to be absolved by me was just crushing. And I thought, how many of my sisters and brothers are having this same experience right now. Wow. So then I made sure that year and I still do this practice today, when I’m talking to someone black, I say, before we get started, How are you? And I realized that that could be relative today. It could be relative to this moment, but I want to hold space. How are you? And then they know it’s okay for them to be real with me about whatever they need to say and get off of their chest. But I wanted to make sure I extended that space for us, because it’s just been heavy ever since.

 

Sarah Noll Wilson  

Yeah, yeah, and we were just, actually the conversation before this, was talking to my colleague and coach Stephanie about how, like the calculations when you are different from what the group is and and we were talking a lot about how when you’re a part of the dominant norm, or when you’re the person in power, she made this really beautiful point of, you only see the success of the system. You don’t necessarily see the failure of the system. 

 

Courageous Fire  

Oh. That’s good.

 

Sarah Noll Wilson  

Right? Yeah, and, and the calculations, and the the cost kind of, the cost benefit analysis, right? Which is probably, you know, I can only imagine, like, I know the calculations I go through, and what are the calculations you go through? What what was like? What was that moment like for you, when you’re like, I have the right to be loud. We, we, we had an interview with somebody early on, an incredible black woman, and she said I finally was like, It’s okay that I am angry right now. I’m angry, and I’m gonna be okay expressing it, and I’m curious just, you know, like, even like, I think it’s valuable for all people to be hearing this conversation, to see the calculations, to see the withholding, to see the the having to play a status game, right? What, like, what, what? What was that moment like for you?

 

Courageous Fire  

Um, it was exhilarating. Because, you know, well, you don’t know, I was such a good girl, like I was such a good girl, like I was studious, I was on time. I went to school. I said, yes, ma’am, no, ma’am, yes, sir, no, sir. Like I was such a good girl in systems, as as a young adult in the work field, just always kept the rules. I always did what the supervisor said, like. So for me to actually go against the sometimes unspoken and sometimes spoken understanding that as a black person, and then I came to know as an adult, as a black woman, there’s certain mindsets that say, the minute that I look, even my eyebrows furrow, I am now labeled as the aggressor, no matter, even if I don’t open my mouth. And so to say something that is going against the grain of a peaceful atmosphere, whatever that is deemed to be in that moment, is a no no. So good girls don’t do that. 

 

Sarah Noll Wilson  

Yeah. 

 

Courageous Fire  

And I was not a good girl and like, I didn’t get arrested and go to jail, like I didn’t – the ceiling didn’t fall in, like nothing horrible happened because I was not a good girl, and that was such an exhilarating moment for me, and I was so excited that my daughter got to witness what that looked like, because she had never seen me act that way either. 

 

Sarah Noll Wilson  

Yeah, sure, yeah. Well, I mean, and then, you know, and then there’s, multiple layers too, right? It’s the Midwest where we’re nice.

 

Courageous Fire  

(laughs) Yes, yes.

 

Sarah Noll Wilson  

We’re so, I mean, I always say we’re violently polite. We’re just, you know, like, I mean, I’m still working on not being a good girl like that is, like, there’s some deep, deep trauma with that in my system. One of the things that you know, I would love to explore is that, you know, watching, watching that white woman have that click, right? And I don’t even know what my question is, but let me just share with you something that I’ve been, I mean, I think about a lot, but it’s been, it’s come up a few times, especially because of our work. There’s a real opportunity for us white women to to understand that while we experience exclusion in some forms of oppression because of being women in a society that was built for men. 

 

Courageous Fire  

Absolutely. 

 

Sarah Noll Wilson  

It isn’t the same. It doesn’t absolve us from the role we play and then contributing to the oppression of others, and, and, and that’s something that I’ve like, chewing on a lot of, like, how do I help my fellow white women understand that like, you can experience some shit and you can be causing some shit too. 

 

Courageous Fire  

Oh, that’s really good.

 

Sarah Noll Wilson  

You know.

 

Courageous Fire  

That’s excellent. And I, you know, in my work, I remind us, as black women of the same thing, because we experience some but because of the messages we receive right along with everybody else, we look at other black women at times as aggressors, simply because of the very uniform messaging of who a black woman is and what her supposed agenda is. And so for you to say, you know I want to help my sisters get it. I want to help your sisters get it, but I want to help my sisters get it too. (laughs) Because it’s both/and it is literally both/and, and so that is so powerful. What does that look like when we all ask that question, What shit am I experiencing while I’m still contributing to very similar shit for other people, what does that look like, and what do I do about it?

 

Sarah Noll Wilson  

Yeah, yeah, it’s the, you know, there’s, obviously, there’s tons of research, but some of the, some of the research that I find really compelling is the fact that if you are a black woman on a team with predominantly white woman, you will have substantially worse results. You will have a substantially worse experience, like it’s very consistent. And I bring that up because one of the concepts you talk about in your work and this came out of our first conversation was, there are spaces of trust, and then there’s the spaces of must. And I just, I want you to define those for us, explain those for us. Yeah, let’s I just want to go, go there for a moment. 

 

Courageous Fire  

Okay, sure. And you know, I always want to say this, I am a black woman. There is definitely a lot of shared complex, layered trauma language for all black women, but we are definitely not a monolith, right? 

 

Sarah Noll Wilson  

Yeah, right.

 

Courageous Fire  

So there are going to be some things that are very common for a lot of us to experience that I’ll talk about. And then there will be some other black women that’ll be like, yeah, that’s not my story. So I just, I just want to say that.

 

Sarah Noll Wilson  

And thank you for calling that out, too, because that’s important to remember for, you know, for all of us, but particularly when we’re, you know, trying to be on a journey of doing better and doing different, that we’re all still unique humans with unique experiences. So I appreciate that push.

 

Courageous Fire  

Absolutely. So “centers of must”, I’ll start there. These are literally places where black women go because we have to. So that could look like our jobs, that could look like any place we go for assistance, that could look like our daycare, that could look like our healthcare settings, but we don’t choose to go to these places. And these places, I will also add, are usually predominantly white spaces, right? So we already feel a lot of nervousness, a lot of uncertainty, and then there’s also a lot of expectation of what it won’t be. 

 

Sarah Noll Wilson  

Wait, say more about that? 

 

Courageous Fire  

Okay, sure. So I always talk about this invisible button that we see under the desk, like those movies where there’s a bank robbery and the woman tries to make her way to that hidden button under the desk so that she can call for help against the intruder who’s not supposed to be there. That’s how we feel in most settings, the intruder who is not supposed to be here. Everyone knows we’re not supposed to be here, and at any moment, if we do the wrong thing, and there’s lots of wrong things that we can do as black women, and some of those things could just be a facial expression or a shift in the chair, but we know if we do it and that button is pushed, that’s it. So we may lose our job. Our kids will get kicked out of daycare. We’ll be told by the healthcare provider we’re going to use that language, that we can’t be seen anymore, whatever it looks like. But that’s, we expect that button to be pushed, and we think that that button, someone has their hand under it expectantly, like eagerly waiting for a reason to push the button. That’s what centers of must look like for most black women. Centers of trust are places that are usually black owned spaces where we think this is a space where I can talk, I can confide in this space. I can share vulnerability in this space. If something bad has just happened, I can get help for that in this space. Those are, those are the two categories I divided our lives into, because that’s pretty much what it looks like. How do I navigate the centers of must and how do I make spaces in my day, week, month, to slide into those centers of trust so I can get a little refreshing?

 

Sarah Noll Wilson  

Yeah. I was just, I was just, gosh, I mean, like, I mean, anytime that, well, not just you and I are in conversation, but I’m in conversation with other people. And again, you sit there and you go, I think I know. I think I know how bad it is, or I think I know what the reality is. And as soon as you started describing it was like, I know about that button, even if I’ve never named it as the button. I’m aware of the power I have in pushing that button. I know other people who have eagerly pushed that button, so like, there’s, it’s just, –

 

Courageous Fire  

I, you know what? I hear the pain in your voice, and I see it on your face, but I also need to tell you how much that matters to me, that it matters to you. So I just, I need to thank you for that.

 

Sarah Noll Wilson  

Courageous, the bar is so low. 

 

Courageous Fire  

I know it is, it is, but anytime, anytime we’re acknowledged as black women, as being human, with people that would have human emotions and would feel pain, that’s just a welcome moment for me. It’s, it’s, I think I’ve said this to you before. It’s a water in the desert moment for me. So thank you for that.

 

Sarah Noll Wilson  

Again. The timing of this conversation coming off the heels of the last one. One of the things that Stephanie Chin and I were talking about is this calculation that everyone makes when they walk into a space. We were talking specifically to the workspace, but, but basically, like, Can I walk into the space and know that I can, you know, at best, be my best self, but at minimum, just like, do my work? And, you know, and I recently had, I had a potential client asking me, I just don’t know if it’s like, is it a good thing or a bad thing to give people their own spaces with others like them. Like, is it is it okay that we just have conversations as women? Is it okay, you know? And hearing and hearing how you talk about the the centers of trust and the spaces of trust, right? Is like, just a moment to catch your breath. Like, I mean, even the language you’re using with me, of like, it’s a drop of water in a desert, holy moly, you know, like.

 

Courageous Fire  

Yeah, yeah.

 

Sarah Noll Wilson  

You know, when we were talking about that idea, like, what was coming up for me was like, damn, like, I know, for probably a lot of folks, I’m a I’m a space of must, right?

 

Courageous Fire  

Yes.

 

Sarah Noll Wilson  

And, how do I change that? And what can I do? And one of the things you shared, and again, we had a lovely conversation. I actually may have quoted you in one of this these previous conversations, was like, you know, the ability to understand and navigate different languages of different people, 

 

Courageous Fire  

Yes, yes.

 

Sarah Noll Wilson  

And so, so share that with us.

 

Courageous Fire  

Yes. So when I first started this, everybody was like, Oh, she’s she talks a lot about domestic violence, so we probably don’t. There’s probably nothing we can do with that. And it’s like, okay, well, let’s broaden that. And let’s think about crises. Let’s broaden that some more. Let’s think about healthcare. Let’s broaden that some more. Let’s think about social determinants of health. Let’s like, let’s really get broad about what causes health outcomes, what causes a lack of retention of diversity? Let’s like, when you really boil all of that down, it is always going to come back to, how is that space for that type of person to be present, fully present or not? And what it comes down to is, do you have an interpreter?

 

Sarah Noll Wilson  

Yeah.

 

Courageous Fire  

Do you? And people go, Oh, I get it. Okay. Well, yeah, we have those. It’s like, no, no. That’s not what I mean. I mean, how many people or organizations have you sought out that understand different parts of a very complex language of a person you want to serve, or that you want to be part of your team, because there’s a language, right? So people go, Oh, okay, well, you’re probably talking about the language of women. You’re probably talk about the language of black people. And it’s like, yes, and no. So when you think about the intersection of those two – I love that Kimberlé Crenshaw came up with that term because she wanted people to understand when you stand in an overlap, it’s not just that you’re part of this group and that group. It’s what happens when those groups intersect, and how there is a different level of barrier for that particular intersection that is completely different from the other two groups that you came from. And so it’s like, okay, when you’re talking about a black woman, you have to be understanding that language of a historical trauma from a country that she helped build, that really just wanted the building, and didn’t want her as a human, just wanted her as a tool. And this is something that I learned from, honestly, a speech that I’d never listened to before, of Dr Martin Luther King. I want to say I listened to it like four years ago, and he said something about the fact that we came here as tools, and now we seek to be humans, and that’s what the problem is. Because it’s like, Well, why do I have to do this whole thing? Why can’t I just put this tool in the box, in the shed? Who cares if the shed has a rusty ceiling? Well, who cares if it leaks water? It’s just in a toolbox anyway. So why do I have to, like, now worry about the feelings of a wrench? Like, who does that? You just put the wrench in the box and you go on, and so it’s like, oh, that’s part of it is we’re part of a people who want to be human, but we were brought here as tools. So that’s part of it. The other part is we also came from a group who wanted to be looked at as people who serve only and don’t have opinions, don’t have values, don’t have any of that they just serve. So now you’re saying that these people have feelings and they shouldn’t just be able to serve. They should get to lead, if that’s what they are, is a leader. And now you’re also saying that I have to divorce myself from looking at them as aggressive, from looking at them as people who just want to serve, from looking at them as people who are hypersexual beings and just don’t mind that, and actually go out looking for that. So now I have to think of all of those things. That’s a lot of work. It was easier when I could just look at that person who was this color and this gender and say, this is the category they belong in. I have a lot of decisions to make today. Now this is getting ready to be hard work, and I don’t want to do all of that. 

 

I keep trying to help people understand inherently, the problem that we all struggle with when we’re asked to consider a different part of humanity of our brother or sister is not that most people are horrible. That’s not the issue. It is that you’re asking me to abandon my easy system of categorization that made decisions instant. And now you’re telling me that there’s a process of thinking I have to employ with new terminology I don’t know, and that I could get this wrong and before it was just immediate, and I thought it was always right. That’s what you’re asking humans to do. And gosh, when you think about it that way, shouldn’t there be some level of compassion for humans who were doing it this way all this time that you’re now asking to completely abandon that and do something completely different, yes, and that’s why I approached my work with compassion as an interpreter, because there’s so much people don’t know. And you said something to me, you’re like as always, feel free to not answer. I appreciate that. When I stepped into this, I said, when I’m in my workspace and right now, even though you are a wonderful spirit, this is a bit of a workspace –

 

Sarah Noll Wilson  

Yeah.

 

Courageous Fire  

And so I’ve made the decision that when I’m in this space, I want you to turn me over. I do. I want you to handle me. I want you to examine, I want you to question, I want you to push and poke a little bit, because the more you do that with me, the easier and more natural it will be, and even maybe even desirable at some point it will be for you to want to do that with the next black woman that you’re going to interview or that you’re going to give services to, or that you may collaborate or work with. If I can make that easier, yay. I’ll do it.

 

Sarah Noll Wilson  

This is, this is why I love talking to you like you, you, you push me, you offer perspectives, you present it in a way – I mean, you just like again, like you, you come from such a deep place of your own authentic humanity. And again, it’s, it’s, I think the timing of this conversation with the one like, I wish you could have heard the one before, (laughs) because it’s like hitting on a lot of similar themes, of of you know, of the like, you know, specifically to the workplace, we got to run things how we ran it for the longest time. That was really easy, and it was really easy for the people in power and, and we’re asking a lot, and we’re demanding a lot, and, you know, and, and one of the things that I think is really important as we think about whether it’s your own journey as an individual on this path, to say, how do I see, like, how do I challenge myself to catch when I’m not seeing the humanity, when I’m seeing the archetype or the right, like, the simplified story and not the complexity? Like, how do I catch that? How do I, how do I, you know, explore it and expand it, get curious with it. And like, and the big thing for me on this journey that I’ve learned is like and like, I’m gonna mess up, and we’re all gonna mess up. 

 

Courageous Fire  

Thank you. 

 

Sarah Noll Wilson  

And like, you know, and I think, and that, that, I mean, again, good girl, nice girl. We don’t hurt people’s feelings. We we want to be liked above everything, which, which, uh. Dr. Tina Opie wrote this great book called Shared Sisterhood. And she was like, see, you want to be liked. I just want to be respected. I just want to be left alone, you know, and, and, and we just heard this this week multiple times. And I know you hear it too, just like leaders, you know, who are trying to, who recognize they need to create more inclusive environments are like, but I just, I’m just not going to say anything, so I don’t want to mess it up. You will, you just will!

 

Courageous Fire  

Exactly, oh my gosh. 

 

Sarah Noll Wilson  

And we all do, it just will happen.

 

Courageous Fire  

It will it will it will. And I – Oh, thank you so much for saying that. I have so much I want to say, but I’ll try to put it in a box. 

 

Sarah Noll Wilson  

Say it all!

 

Courageous Fire  

Thank you for that. Oh, thank you so like that is one of the things that people really handwring about, right, after we have sessions, or any baseline training, or anything like that, they go, Oh, God, Courageous. I just, I don’t want to get this wrong. And I always say, beautiful, you’ve been getting it wrong, (laughter) but you’ve been getting it wrong, it’s okay. What are you afraid of continuing to get it wrong, like you’ve been getting it wrong? It’s okay. I said, but here’s the thing, and they’re like, so what do you like? But? But they’re gonna know. I said, so let’s think about this. The the next person that you interact with that you want to get it right, that you hesitate is in the back of your mind. You’re going, Oh, I’m gonna mess up. This person has no idea that you’ve done anything new. This person has no idea that you’re trying to look at my reform response process without them seeing you glancing at it. They don’t know any of that. And I said, so you can literally say, You know what so and so, I just had a training with this black woman named Courageous, because I know I’ve been getting it wrong. People are like, Wait a minute. You can say that? Like, yeah, you can say that. I said, think about the weight that carries. Here’s this person sitting across the desk for me that looks nothing like me, but they took time to go to a training from someone who does look like me, who’s considered an expert in this, to learn what my language means, so that they stop getting it wrong. And then they tell me, okay, I’m just gonna tell you the truth straight up. I’m looking at her brochure. I’m trying to cheat, but I’m gonna just pull it up on the desk. I’m just going to look at it because I feel like I’m about to mess up. Hold on. I’m going to look at it if I get it wrong. Just bear with me. If I read it verbatim, just bear with me, because it matters that much to me. I said, What kind of currency do you think that carries? And they were just like, God, I never thought about that. I was, Yeah, you’ve been getting it wrong, but now you’re going to try to employ something that is right, and you’re telling them I tried, I’m trying, and this is what I’m doing. I said, there’s so much forgiveness that comes and grace that comes when people know you’re trying versus I’m just going to get it wrong anyway, so just not even going to try it all. We feel the indifference. We feel the apathy too. So please try, make the effort.

 

Sarah Noll Wilson  

Yeah, the the whole like, well, you’re already getting it wrong, (laughter) and you’re like, so my friend Courageous would say, you’re already getting it wrong. So, like, let’s just try to do it a little better or little differently. And you know, and one of my favorite quotes from one of my favorite authors, Minda Harts and who’s written a number of books, like helping leaders to go, like, how do we rethink? You know, her first book, The Memo was like, I want to have a response to the lean in movement, but for black women, because lean in doesn’t work for us. But one of the things she said on a session, I’ll never, I mean, it’s like, seared, seared into my brain, to my nice Iowa white girl brain, (laughter) nobody will benefit from your caution.

 

Courageous Fire  

Ohh.

 

Sarah Noll Wilson  

Like no one will benefit from your caution, but somebody might benefit from your courage. 

 

Courageous Fire  

Oh, man, wow, yes, that that that, right? And then I remind people, there’s always ways to walk something back from getting it wrong, right. You can learn those too, but to do nothing is so painful for us. Yes, yes. 

 

Sarah Noll Wilson  

And it’s just as painful as doing something that could be, like, intentionally or unintentionally harmful, because like, and, and I think that that you know, and maybe this is a conversation you and I can explore another time. It’s something we’re chewing on a lot, is, how do we build up our capacity to be messy with each other? How do we build up our capacity to to make mistakes?

 

Courageous Fire  

Man.

 

Sarah Noll Wilson  

To, to not deflect, to reflex? To own it, not center ourselves, you know. And, and what does it look like to be vulnerable in a way of saying, you know, to use your language like I realized that I haven’t, I’ve been getting this wrong, you know, even if it means it’s because I haven’t been paying attention to it. And I want to, like, I want to get it right. And, you know, I had somebody once who said, I’m gonna say something. Can you help me get it right? 

 

Courageous Fire  

Oh!

 

Sarah Noll Wilson  

And I love that language of like, I’m going to say this –

 

Courageous Fire  

This person must be a kin to me. Yes.

 

Sarah Noll Wilson  

Yeah. 

 

Courageous Fire  

Seriously. Like, and just to be clear, there are different groups over which I have a level of privilege, right? My daughters – Well, I guess not my oldest daughter anymore, because she’s 18, so technically she’s now a woman too. But my my youngest daughter is 17, so she’s still considered a minor, which is such a horrible word, and they’re the ones that include me in on that, by the way, they were, like, Mom was with that minor thing. What does that even mean, that we’re less important? I’m like, oh, –

 

Sarah Noll Wilson  

Like, we’re less than?

 

Courageous Fire  

Right! 

 

Sarah Noll Wilson  

Oh, hadn’t thought about that.

 

Courageous Fire  

Right? I had never thought about it. But there’s certain things that I say to them, okay, I want to discuss something with you. I’m 55, you’re 17 and 18, probably going to get this wrong. So please help clean this up as we go along the way. You know going to be open to it, and if you think I’m not open, please call me on it, right? But I have to be able to say that to them, because there’s so many spaces that they have taught me so much about what I thought I was getting right, 

 

Sarah Noll Wilson  

Yeah, yeah. 

 

Courageous Fire  

Thought it was, but I wasn’t. And I mean, like, wow, when we talk about that whole space of just trying, right, just the effort. People think that it has to be this huge shift when doggone it, sometimes a person is just looking for you to show that it matters at all for you to stutter or stammer or to have to rephrase it, or to have to say, I’m sure that that wasn’t right or whatever. I think people think that when you’re the boss or an expert or the doctor or whoever that you are in a position of authority, that people respect and appreciate most what you know and we don’t. We appreciate most what you’re willing to say that you don’t know because then we feel like I can trust you.

 

Sarah Noll Wilson  

Yeah. 

 

Courageous Fire  

If you’re willing to tell me that you didn’t know something, then if something comes up for me, you’re probably willing to tell me about that too. Or if you have an issue with me, you’re probably willing to say – a person who is no, we’re no longer close like we were at this point of our relationship, but I will never forget when we became super duper close, she said, I can promise you, as your friend, I’m going to fail you. I’m going to let you down. You’re going to look for me and you’re going to be disappointed that I will be disillusioning, that I will be harmful, that I will be hurtful. And I’m like, Pam, you’re not, you’re not winning any points here. (laughter) What are you doing? And she’s like, hold on, bear with me. And I’m like, Alright, she said. But what I can also promise you is that I will always want to hear when that has happened. I can promise you that I will own it. I can promise you that I want to work through to a point that leaves you whole instead of splintered or fragmented from whatever it is I did. She is the first friendship I ever had where I could say, Pam, when you did that, I want to slap the taste out your mouth. And she did not get angry, frustrated, irritated, offended. Her response was, “Really? What did I say? What did I do?” The focus was never, look how you delivered this message. The focus was always, we have a relationship that I value, and so I need to focus on what is hurting our relationship, and I want to fix that, and I don’t care what the delivery is, because that’s how important you are to me. 

 

Sarah Noll Wilson  

Yeah.

 

Courageous Fire  

That’s how we get there, with efforts, is being willing to go there.

 

Sarah Noll Wilson  

I can’t help but imagine, you know, what would it be? You know, it’s interesting actually, I was just talking to I’ve acquired a new mentor in my life, and he would describe himself as an old, crusty Scottish bear. His words. He’s nauseatingly consistent, and he’s a crusty old Scottish bear. 

 

Courageous Fire  

(laughs)

 

Sarah Noll Wilson  

And he it was interesting because he said something different. He said, Sarah, I know we love each other, like we met each other once. We just like, right kismet, he and but he goes, I’m gonna disappoint you. I’m gonna challenge you. I might let you down, you know. And kind of similar, and there was something I really appreciated, so like hearing Pam’s words, like, I appreciate this, because it’s reinforcing it. But imagine, imagine, you know, we think about our personal relationships, our relationships at work, even like relationships with clients, –

 

Courageous Fire  

Yep. 

 

Sarah Noll Wilson  

To say, here’s what is absolutely true. There will be regrettable events. It’s just going to happen. We’re humans. And what is also absolutely true is the you know that I will hear you, that I will reflect on it, that I will try to do better. That if we need to have a like, deeper discussion about why we will have that. And again, like, just, just like, our comfort with being messy in a relationship, it’s like, how do we, how do we set the stage, and how do we be intentional about it, and and it also takes work, because most people, most people, would say they love feedback. (laughter) Just give it to me. Call call me out like, they don’t love it. 

 

Courageous Fire  

They don’t mean it. They don’t mean it. 

 

Sarah Noll Wilson  

They don’t love it when it’s from somebody they don’t respect. They don’t love it when it’s feedback they don’t, you know, I mean, you were giving that woman at the pharmacy or Walgreens or whatever feedback.

 

Courageous Fire  

(laughs) I was.

 

Sarah Noll Wilson  

I’m sure in an interview, she’d be like, I love feedback, but not from you.

 

Courageous Fire  

Correct.

 

Sarah Noll Wilson  

You know. Like, I always wish people would be really honest with that. Like, you know what actually, like, unless you’re giving it to me at like, 10 am after I’ve had a break, and I like you and I agree with the feedback, otherwise, like, don’t waste your time. (laughter) But like, that’s part of the work too, you know? And also, like, and it’s not some attack on your character.

 

Courageous Fire  

Yeah, it really isn’t. And we have to be able to separate that from it, right? 

 

Sarah Noll Wilson  

Yeah.

 

Courageous Fire  

Because it’s not, and that’s not always something that I could do, and I think I’ve gotten, probably, I would give myself 75% improvement on that, because I’m not all the way. But I think I’ve come off a long, long, long way from that. And I honestly, I think you said, Well, how do we do that? And how do we? Sometimes we get deep about something that’s just not deep. (laughter) It’s just, for real. It’s just scary. It’s scary but it’s not really deep, or it’s scary but it’s not really hard, it’s just scary. Because really what the question in most humans minds is, what if I’m authentic and they’re not?

 

Sarah Noll Wilson  

 Yeah.

 

Courageous Fire  

What if I’m honest and they’re not? What if I’m gracious, but they’re not? That’s what we’re really afraid of, is, what if I go over here, because it’s not hard for me to just go across the street, like literally, if I just walk over this bridge, that’s not hard. It’s not hard. I could do that, but I’m scared that if I go halfway, the other person is just going to peer at me from the other side of the bridge and go, yep. Better keep on walking, because I’m not going to meet you there. You know that’s what we’re afraid of. We know how to be messy. We know how to be authentic. We know how to take the blame and own up to things. We know how, we’re just terrified of what it looks like when we do it and no one meets us there. And honestly, this was something that I said to myself in my, you know, what am I first grade? Are you seven in first grade? 

 

Sarah Noll Wilson  

Yeah. 

 

Courageous Fire  

Okay, so I’m a first grader in my lifespan right now. 

 

Sarah Noll Wilson  

(laughs)

 

Courageous Fire  

And what I said was, doggonit Courageous. How important is it to you who you are? How important? Right? Is it only important if somebody else values who you’ve decided to be? Is it only important if somebody else thinks that it’s good to be what you are, or is who you are important enough to you to do it if you’re the only person that thinks it’s a good idea? And I started, really I was my own social experiment. I’m going to try. I’m going to try showing up as Courageous everywhere. I’m going to try going to a business meeting. They talk to me about money when we were just supposed to be talking about content. And I go, Hey, I’m a spiritual being. I’m not in a space centered enough to talk about money today. I came ready to talk about context. I gonna need to meditate. I want to spend a little time outside. I’m going to need to center a little bit more before I can come to you about a money discussion, because that’s how I am. So I’m gonna start saying that in those meetings. I’m gonna start saying when people say introduce yourself, I’m gonna start saying what I think matters at that time for somebody who needs it in the room. Instead of trying to prove that I’m important enough to be in this room with everybody else. I’m gonna cuss if I want to cuss, or I’m gonna use a $20 word if I want to use a $20 word, or I’m going to use slang if I want to use slang, and it’s not going to matter who I’m with or what room I’m in, or even what I’m doing at the time. And let’s just see if I’m happier. Let’s just see if I have more peace of mind. Let’s just see if I’m more powerful that way. Let’s just see if I’m more effective and centered and brilliant and useful that way, and doggonit, I am. I am. And the other thing me being that way helps me do is two more things. Doggonit. I don’t have to remember, right? I don’t have to code switch. 

 

Sarah Noll Wilson  

Yeah, sure.

 

Courageous Fire  

I don’t have to remember what version of me that they freaking met because they met the same person, that this person or that person, that the other person met, because I’m the same person all the time. Number one, I ain’t got nothing to keep track of. Number two, wow, I give permission. That’s my favorite thing in the world to do, is to give permission. People see an authentic woman, they go, Courageous took off her shoes at this really formal event. My feet hurt. I’m taking off my shoes too. Wow. Courageous came to this mental health panel and said her mental health is not good today. I’m not going to smile today because I don’t feel like it either, and she’s not so I’m not, because I don’t want to either. Whoo, permission. I feel better. I don’t have to remember anything. I feel happier. And other people have permission. Everybody’s winning.

 

Sarah Noll Wilson  

(laughter) And if they don’t like it, that’s on them, like it’s how? Okay, so no, this, this is a this, the the timing of it, of this conversation, for me personally, is really good, because one of the things that I’m working on is staying really connected with like, what I know to be true and powerful, even when I know that it won’t always be accepted or welcomed?

 

Courageous Fire  

Yes, yes.

 

Sarah Noll Wilson  

Right? Because there are times when I sit there and go, like, even to my new crusty Scottish bear friend, I’m like, Well, you can say that, but if I say that, there will be consequences, because people don’t expect a a nice woman to say that and like –so that’s something I’m trying to push myself through to to be like, Nope, this is, this is me. Like, yeah, you you might think I would be more effective if I didn’t occasionally say shit or damn, but, like, this is me. Like, you’re gonna get the most, you know, like, and that’s even just as simple as that, you know, and get feedback. Like, Oh, she used a naughty word. I’m like, am I a child? Like, I’m fucking adult, like, and if you want me, this is me. And so, like, I love that invitation, of, like, the experiment of, do I feel happier? 

 

Courageous Fire  

Yes.

 

Sarah Noll Wilson  

Do I feel better? And not that that’s easy. It’s not a switch that you just flip. Or at least, that’s not what it feels like to me, but, but you do, it is contagious. I mean, it was part of why I was drawn to you. In a sea of people who were like, even I was just like, I don’t, what the hell am I supposed to say? Like, here I am. And then it was like, Oh, wait, hey, y’all, I have a podcast. Come on. It like this. This is who I am, right? Like this, you know, and and that idea of permission, because that’s like your big hashtag. 

 

Courageous Fire  

It is, it is. 

 

Sarah Noll Wilson  

For people who are listening to this, knowing that we have listeners all over the world. 

 

Courageous Fire  

Oh boy. 

 

Sarah Noll Wilson  

And some of them are sitting – let’s paint the picture. Some of them are sitting in their car right now listening, you know, they’re listening at work. They’re catching up while they’re washing dishes. What’s the invitation that you want to give them? 

 

Courageous Fire  

Oh, man. (exhales) So I started doing this, and I invite people to do this all the time, because we talk about, you know, being kinder to other humans and whatever this is like, okay, that’s cute and everything. But you know, what the first human you have to start with is you. Seriously. So, like conventional beauty says this is what you should look like. This is how much you should weigh. You know, this is how you should even, especially for women, this is how you should hold your mouth when you speak, and this is how you should, you know, put your legs. You know when you sit, and you know all these different things. It’s like, you know what? I got beady little eyes with hardly any eyelashes. Why do I love that about me? And I sat in a mirror until I could tell myself truthfully why I respected that about myself, why I appreciated it, admired it, and then even, oh, girl, look at them piercing eyes. Oh, those things get messages to people. When you look at somebody, they know you’re seeing them as a person all the way down to their core, and it touches them and it moves them and it empowers them. That’s why you were giving those eyes girl, you don’t need no eyelashes. Just keep blinking like this. Don’t worry about it. Don’t worry about it. The eyes are doing their job, you know.

 

Sarah Noll Wilson  

(laughs)

 

Courageous Fire  

Like, take the things about you that you think are the most off putting things you could possibly have been given that you’ve always secretly called a curse. Look at them until you find out why you treasure those things. And in that process, I promise you, you will fall in love with you. So I am giving you permission to sit with you, learn you, learn to appreciate you and fall in love with you. Because when you do that, Oh, my God, everything, everything changes. And I mean everything, like I used to have locks. I loved them so much. I had hair down my back, and then stress alopecia came, and now I had to figure I was gonna do with my hair. I cut my own hair. I rocked this short look. I love it. I feel like it looks like flames shooting out of my head. And why shouldn’t it? My last name is Fire. Let’s go. I love it, right. I’m blind as a bat, but I found some glasses that I think are dope, and now I feel like they’re part of my persona. Go play with me, like I found all these things about me that you could say these things suck, or you could say these things make me unique and special and incredible, and I love them, and I love me. And it sounds so courageous. People don’t really do that. You know what? The people that truly want peace? Because I could go out in the sea of people who are perfect size sixes, and I might see somebody else and go, Wow, she’s gorgeous. Look at that outfit she’s got on. She is sharp. Go ahead, and then I will look at my outfit and go, Girl, look. Girl, you better go on and rock that full figure. Hey, now, all right, sister! I can do both, because I am so good with me, the person on the inside and the package that it’s wrapped in. Permission to be and love you, do that first.

 

Sarah Noll Wilson  

That’s where we need to end – until I ask you this.

 

Courageous Fire  

(laughs) I love you so much. You crack me up. Oh, my God. You’re funny.

 

Sarah Noll Wilson  

Okay. The question we ask everyone is, what’s a conversation you’ve had with yourself or someone else that was transformative?

 

Courageous Fire  

Yep, I thought about that question, and I am, one of the things that I am a survivor of is domestic violence, and I remember being married to the perpetrator, and one day after another phony moment, aha moment, because perpetrators do that a lot. He says to me, I feel like if I were to die today, you wouldn’t be sad, you would be relieved. I and at this point in the 13 plus years of the abusive marriage I had been accustomed to always, if he said anything that sounded like he was sad or down on himself, I would, you know, perk it up, even if it was a lie, I would just perk it up. And I was so exhausted that I just was like, He’s not wrong. I’m not going to refute that. I’m just going to sit there with it, because it’s the truth. So I just got quiet, and in my quiet, I thought about my future, instantly, and that was the first time in that very abusive marriage that I could even think about anything beyond surviving the moment, and because he said that about me being relieved at his death, I thought about my own future, and I said, What will people say when I’m no longer here and right now I would be remembered as a victim. That’s not how I want this to end for me. And literally, that was one of those moments that started a seed of discontent for just surviving. And what could it look like if I could get out, get my children out, and create a legacy that I wouldn’t have to be relieved when death came, and that other people could celebrate and be empowered by. So even though it came through the mouth of someone incredibly harmful, that was actually transformative for me.

 

Sarah Noll Wilson  

Wow. Thank you so much. I’m so glad our paths crossed, and I’m so glad we’re weaving them together now. And so for any of our friends who are event planners or HR professionals, or you’re running an event. I’m gonna do a shameless plug for the Sarah and Courageous show. (laughter) If you, if you, if you are looking, I mean, you can, you can hire her. I mean, we’ll promote her work too, because you should hire her. But if you’re looking for dynamic duo that is willing to cut you a deal, because we just want to co create on stage together. You let, let us know, and we’ll, we’ll figure something out, because we got plans. But Courageous, for people who want to learn more about the work you do, to reach out to you or to even support the work you do. What’s the best way for people to connect with you?

 

Courageous Fire  

I think the easiest way is my website. So C, like my first name, Courageous, Fire, like my last name, llc.com, forward slash home. Yep, just come on home. Cfirellc dot com forward slash home, and you can learn more and interact with me there.

 

Sarah Noll Wilson  

And we’ll be sure to put those in the show notes. 

 

Thanks Sarah.

 

On this Friday, beautiful Friday afternoon. Thank you beautiful.

 

Courageous Fire  

Thank you beautiful.

 

Sarah Noll Wilson  

Our guest this week has been my dear friend, Courageous Fire. I tell you what, I feel so fortunate to be able to still have the show, because I feel like every conversation I have with these amazing guests just pushes me and my thinking, and I hope they do the same for you. One of the things I’m really holding on well, two big things. The first is that idea of, if you’re afraid of doing it wrong, understand you’re already doing it wrong. I mean, that’s, it’s just as simple as that. And then the second is, how do you get really good with you and to know your value and to own your value and power, no matter what other people think. You know, I’ve come a long way in that journey, but I also realized that I still have a ways to go, and so I think that was just a beautiful gift. As always, my friends, we want to hear from you. I want to hear what resonated for you, what pushed you, what thoughts came up for you. Send us an email at podcast at sarahnollwilson dot com. Again, that’s podcast at sarahnollwilson dot com, where I do read and respond to each of your personal emails, and I love to hear them, so please drop me a note to let us know. 

 

And if you want to support the show, you can do so in two ways. First is be sure to rate, review and subscribe to the show on your preferred podcast platform. This allows us to increase our exposure so that we can continue to have great conversations like the one we did today with Courageous. The second way you can support us is through financial support by becoming a Patreon. You can go to patreon dot com slash conversationsonconversations, where 100% of your financial support will go to support the team that makes this show possible. Also some pretty great benefits. In addition to supporting the team is you’ll get early access to episodes that are ad free, and you’ll get some very unique Conversations On Conversations swag. So check that out again. That’s Patreon dot com slash conversationsonconversations. 

 

And now let’s give some love to the team that makes this show possible. I’m in front of the microphone, but there’s a crew that makes it happen. So to our producer Nick Wilson, to our sound editor Drew Noll, to our transcriptionist Becky Reinert, to our marketing consultant Jessica Burdg and the rest of the SNoWCo crew. Thank you all so much. And just a final thank you to Courageous Fire. She’s absolutely incredible in every way, and I am – it’s such a gift to be in conversation with her, and it’s a gift to be in conversation with all of you. Which brings us to the end of this episode, my friends. This has been another episode of Conversations On Conversations. Thank you all so much for showing up for yourselves and for us. And remember when we can change the conversations we have with ourselves and others, we can change the world. So till next week, please be sure to rest, rehydrate, and we’ll see you again soon. Bye, everyone. 

 

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Sarah Noll Wilson is on a mission to help leaders build and rebuild teams. She aims to empower leaders to understand and honor the beautiful complexity of the humans they serve. Through her work as an Executive Coach, an in-demand Keynote Speaker, Researcher, Contributor to Harvard Business Review, and Bestselling Author of “Don’t Feed the Elephants”, Sarah helps leaders close the gap between what they intend to do and the actual impact they make. She hosts the podcast “Conversations on Conversations”, is certified in Co-Active Coaching and Conversational Intelligence, and is a frequent guest lecturer at universities. In addition to her work with organizations, Sarah is a passionate advocate for mental health.

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