Winston Churchill famously used them. So did the Dalai Lama. So what are they? Not, as you might have suspected: “I love you.” However, they are equally if not more powerful. So here they are, three simple words that contain a lot of power: NEVER…GIVE…UP. This credo, certainly in the context of WWII and Churchill’s fireside calls-to-arms to the beleaguered British nation might seem self-evident in difficult moments, even the direst of circumstances. When it comes to our own ‘blind spots, ’ however, its meaning is easily lost amidst a cacophony of negative beliefs, emotions and sensations.

Somewhere in your life is a partner, coworker, family member, pet or a situation that seems hopeless. It may regard health, finances or the success of a venture. Certainly, with any one of those things, we may not have the control we desire over the outcome. Situations can be extremely disheartening. And here is an interesting word. Did you know that the root of the word “courage” is coeur, from the french word for “heart.” So, to have courage literally means to have “heart.” This is a profound notion, because it belies our conventional association with bravery and courage, that of resolve, strength, conviction, force. While these elements hold true, at the center is the strength and will of the heart. More specifically, it is the ability to keep an open heart, to risk being wounded and feeling uncertainty in tough times, one which allows us to remain undaunted and fully human in the most heinous situations.

Often in difficult moments, there is a sense of injustice or injury. Certainly, there are times (think of Nelson Mandela in prison, or the exiled Dalai Lama) where there is persecution. The key to our own humanity and strength is not in bolstering some kind of internal fortitude from anger or resistance, but from, as the Dalai Lama reminds us, that even in the face of the most objectionable and injurious behaviour from others, even our enemies, on some level, seek happiness. This is a profound realization, and the ability to see how another’s humanity–not to mention our own instinct for understanding–has seemingly gone awry, is mediated by this ‘intelligence of the heart.’

The next time you feel angry, misjudged or even insignificant in the face of trying times, let the hardness of your heart soften, and notice the pain, for under it and all the associated hopes, fears and fantasies is essentially the vibrant open spaciousness of open-hearted compassion. As Gandhi so bravely pointed out: “Whatever you do may seem insignificant to you, but it is most important that you do it.”

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