What does it mean to be truly brave? There is a tendancy to think that people who go through hard times are brave. She was so brave, she beat cancer. Now this may be true. Maybe her fight was done so in a brave manner. The fact her cancer was cured does not in and of itself make her brave. As I have mention before I am an open heart surgery survivor. I am not brave. I just went through it. It was horrendous. Agonizing. Petrifying. But I was not brave.
Bravery is being afraid of doing something but doing it anyway. Yes. I was afraid of Heart Surgery, but I wanted to live more. So I showed up at the hospital on the day of surgery and let them knock me out. As I screamed in the agony of having a chest tube placed with no pain meds I was not brave. Nothing about it was brave. I had no choice. There were several points during that day and night that I begged them to let me die. That was far from brave. It is understandable given the agony I was in. I suppose a braver person would have stoically taken it.
Thinking about the relatively recent history of humans there are many brave people who come to mind. Oscar Schindler risked his life to save over a thousand Jewish lives during the Holocaust. Malala Yousafzai, usually referred to as simply Malala, was only 15 years old when she was shot in the head by the Taliban in her native Pakistan. She had been an advocate for girls’ education rights, which the Taliban denounce. She had been returning form a school exam on a bus. She survived and has gone on to continue her advocacy, at age 21, even stronger than before. This comes in the face of further death threats. Pat Tillman, the NFL star, joined the military shortly after 9/11. He loved football and had a hugely lucritave career. He believe he was doing the right thing for his country by signing up. He died 18 months later, in what happened to be friendly fire, putting his country before himself. In May of this year in Paris, 22 year old Mamoudou Gassamain, scaled an apartment building to save a dangling child’s life. In acting this way he put that child’s life well ahead of his own. He still could have done ‘the right thing’, by calling the emergency services, and waiting below trying to catch the boy if he feel. Heroes, people who are truly brave, act in the face of huge fear. If any of the people above didn’t care whether they lived or died, then their actions are not brave. That is not to say they are not admirable, just it changes the ideology behind it.
I try to think back on my 40 years. See if there is anything I have done that could be considered brave. I don’t think there is. Brave people tend not to seek out opportunity to act courageously. The seem to react to situations in a courageous manner. I mean I’ve brought 2 or 3 kids to security or called the cops when they were missing. I means I’m not a bad person. It didn’t cost me anything physically or emotionally to do so. Maybe being late for someone. Acting upon such a situation is just human decency. I still can’t think of anything. Is that pitiful? Does that make me a coward? Just mean I haven’t been presented with the opportunity to show bravery. I remember now. I am a coward. I do have a shining example of that. New Year’s Eve. Working in a bar. It’s packed. We’re slammed. I noticed that several people with a certain physical appearance (not racial) were coming in bit-by-bit. I made a comment. Sure that the appearances were unrelated. My manager freaked out and gave me shit for serving ‘them’. This was Ireland in 2002. Discrimination laws were and still are strong. My manager told me to stop serving them. I did as told. That was strike one. I should have gone against him and risked my job to serve people who were at that moment being peaceful. Once a few of them had been denied service an argument exploded which resulting in my manager being manhandled and told they would be back to ‘pump him full of lead’. Glasses started flying and being thrown at us behind the bar. One staff member got on the phone to 9-9-9 (Irish equivalent of 9-1-1). I ran upstairs to the restaurant to use the other phone to call the local Garda (police) station which was less than a five minute walk away. Another staff member ran up the cop shop. I told myself at the time that I was doing the sensible thing. It made sense for us to try both lines to get help. In true Irish fashion, the Garda at the police station was the only one on duty and he couldn’t leave his post. I remember shouting at him “What do you want us to do? They’re threatening to kill my manager.” I suppose that part of the story is irrelevant. When I went back downstairs to the bar, there was glass everywhere. We all started cleaning up. I started chatting to my closest work friend as we cleaned. She was angry at me. I had abandoned my post while she had stayed. I vaguely defended myself about need to call the cops directly. She wasn’t buying it. She said she understood, but was mad. She was right. I had been afraid and I had bolted. Yes I had a good reason… no… excuse… but I had taken the easy way out instead of sticking out the situation. Now if you feel your safety is in danger it makes sense to flee, but not everyone does. Many choose to stay to try and calm a situation. They are brave.
I suppose I will never be brave. It’s not inside me. That’s an embarrassing thing to admit to. I am a coward. I have been through some extremely difficult life events. Horrendous. I went through them. I did not face them. Bravery cannot be faked. Certainly not for a long time. People who are brave tend not to brag about it. It’s just part of who they are. At that moment. Maybe they weren’t always brave. They pushed themselves to their limits. I don’t have it in me. Or is it that I don’t want to push myself. I don’t want to go off on too far of a tangent. I’ve pondered before it personality traits and inbuilt and unchangeable or not. If someone is innately stubborn and hard working of course it is ‘easier’ for them to broaden their characteristics. If people are innately lazy is it almost impossible for them to change. They don’t have the impetus. In the end it doesn’t matter. People are brave or not brave. We can only hope that a brave one is present whenever we need help!