Being Brave

Former President Trump, whatever one thinks about him, had a good point last week. Americans (and others) need to regain our courage and be brave. It feels as if the past two years—perhaps longer—have been spent in concern, fear, hiding, worrying about “what’s out there?!?” We’ve been told that “the experts” have everything under control, except they didn’t and don’t. No one can have everything under control, as DadRed and I were reminded the other morning when the coffee maker attacked and caused a different appliance to have a migraine (damp in the circuits caused a precautionary shut-down.) Control and bravery are not the same, not by a long shot, but they can move in tandem.

Victor Frankl, in Man’s Search for Meaning describes his experiences in the Nazi camps, and how he realized that the only thing he could control was his reaction to events. That’s all we can control, really. Do we lose our cool, do we give up in the face of doubt and constant nagging? Do we power through, bull-headed [no offense, Orvan] even though we might be in error? Do we keep a smile on our lips, a song in our hearts, and make other people wonder what we know (or if we just don’t know enough to be sufficiently panicked yet)? That’s a hard lesson for me, because I tend to worry, and fret, and fight to control everything that I can. I want predictable patterns in my life, a schedule that cooperates, plans that go as planned, and for things to work when I need them to work. When things go “sproing!” it causes great stress. When I try to control too much all at once, well, we get last week. Granted, the virus didn’t help matters, but self-induced stress opened the door for that virus, in all liklihood.

What is bravery? What is courage? We tend to think of people in extraordinary circumstances, people who do amazing things, or superheroes. Courage is Rick Rescorla in World Trade Center 1, or the men fighting fires on the USS Franklin, or Martin Luther facing down the Church and Holy Roman Emperor (what did I say about “stubborn?”) Or lifting a burning car off a wreck victim, or . . . something like that.

I think we as a society need to to keep those people in mind as models and examples. We also need to look smaller, and at quieter moments. George Washington screwing his courage and faith to the sticking post and pushing through when things looked very, very bleak indeed. People who get up in the morning and do their duty to their families and friends despite troubles of their own. People who stand up to temptations, or to bullies, who quietly say “no.” Or who ask “Why?” or “Why not?” The quiet, still, small voices who question, who draw small lines and by their deeds say, “No, this and no farther. I’m not going to be bullied, or forced, or deny my faith/family/freedoms.”

Stories have power. Actions have power. One thing the internet has done over the past decade and a bit is connect those actions and spread the stories. Bakers saying, “Here are other places that will do what you ask, and have good products.” Mothers saying, “I disagree with what you are trying to persuade my children to believe.” Pastors and rabbis saying, “That is not what my faith teaches, and I will not deny my faith.” People who help strangers, quietly, without demanding glory or government recognition. People who clean up a corner of the world and make it better for others, all without yelling or threatening. Those are all brave actions in their own ways.

Take heart. “You cannot choose your battlefield/ the gods do that for you./ But you can plant a banner/ where a banner never flew.”* Your battlefield might be a schoolboard meeting. Or it might be a smiling at people as you work and shop. It might be telling someone, “No, I disagree, and I will not contribute.” It might also be forcing yourself to go to work, to do something you disagree with, in order to feed your family while quietly looking for other options. Doing your duty is often hard, very hard. It can grind down your spirit the way a grindstone wears against other stones. Enduring can be an act of bravery, of resisting chaos and fear.

Take heart. Tell the stories of the great and good, of the small and brave. Read the stories that inspire, that encourage, that provide hope and comfort, that ease and provide refuge and escape, if only for an hour or two. Listen to your fears, but do not take full counsel of them. We cannot control the world, not really. We can control how we respond.

Take heart.

*Nathalia Crane “The Colors”


11 thoughts on “Being Brave

  1. And occasionally, lower your head and charge.
    Quite defiance is all well and good, but Bartleby died unmourned.

    Physical, spiritual, and cultural wars are not won by erecting fortifications and waiting to be attacked.
    L’audace, l’audace, toujours l’audace.

      • I was usually stumped on the challenge of a positive answer to ‘what is your greatest weakness’ at interviews.

        Then I figured how that I have a very strong ability to endure things that should be changed, instead of changing them. Which is a very damaging thing to admit according to the conventional logic on interviews.

        I see two sides to it now. Down side, it will interest a hiring manager looking for people who will tolerate unnecessary abuse. Up side, I’ve come to see helping hiring managers realize when I am a bad fit is a good thing. At least insofar as HR’s task is even doable.

        At least that period of unemployment has shown me that unemployment is not the end of the world, and hence there is no sense unnecessarily further crippling myself for a temporary position.

  2. “Stories have power. Actions have power. One thing the internet has done over the past decade and a bit is connect those actions and spread the stories.” Yes. There has recently been a lot of discussion, and rightly so, about the malign effects of social media, but the social media oligopolies are only one aspect of the Internet. The ability of independent websites to bypass the media gatekeepers has been and continues to be very important.

  3. When it comes down to it, if I force someone’s path to power enough that they kill me for it, that is a victory for me, albeit a very minor one. Possibly the most significant victory I can ever take part of.

  4. “What is bravery? What is courage? ”

    I can remember several authors who have touched on this, nearly always in military fiction of one form or another. In The Guns of Navarone, Andrea Stavros says “‘There are no brave men and cowardly men in the world, my son. There are only brave men. To be born, to live, to die – that takes courage enough in itself, and more than enough.” Elizabeth Moon has a similar idea in a discussion in The Deed of Paksenarrion.

    David Weber phrases it slightly differently in a recurring line in his “War God” series: “A champion is someone as does what needs doing.” That seems to me to be the essence of courage: it means that you do what needs doing, regardless of the risk.

  5. Just stubborn survival on one’s own quiet terms takes courage.
    Nail that personal banner to the mast and defend it, as you can and will for your own soul’s sake.

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