Friday, October 25, 2013

Feelings Friday: Bravery

I received a very sweet email recently from a reader named Elizabeth who gave me a great suggestion for today's Feelings Friday. She's had the song "Brave" by Sara Bareilles stuck in her head lately, and it reminded her of how much meaning is packed in that one little word. I agree times a million, so let's talk about bravery, guys. Thanks, Elizabeth!


While I was in Texas last week, I spent some time with my three-year-old niece, Amelie. Now, let me tell you, this girl is awesome. She is triple funny, quadruple cute, and she loves dinosaurs and spider monkeys to no end. I'm a big fan.

My husband, Daniel, learning about the joys of Facetiming with Amelie

There was a time when my mom and I were hanging with Amelie where she showed us a "boo-boo" she had, and by "boo-boo" I obviously mean the most insignificant, teeny-weeniest, basically microscopic, little smudge on the side of her index finger. I responded by telling her that it's easy to get little boo-boos here-and-there while we are playing, but it's important to be brave when we get them. She looked at me a little puzzled, and my mom prompted me to explain what "brave" meant.

I quickly realized that it is a hard word to define. Google will churn out lots of definitions for "bravery", most of which involve even more challenging words like "courage" and "valiance" which are honestly just synonyms anyway. Probably the best definition comes from Merriam Webster which defines "brave" as feeling or showing no fear : not afraid, but even then, that seems a bit oversimplified.

"Bravery" is one of those words that changes in the context of growing up. It's a word that usually has a face, and that face will be different for everyone. For my niece, this might be her picture of bravery:

Just look at this heroine, swinging from vines with reckless abandon, unafraid of spending time with a wild animal and a talking map. This scene is surely the perfect image of bravery in the mind of a three-year-old.

But for you, your picture might look something more like this:

or this:

or this:

or this:

It is easy to see bravery in the lives of the people we admire. It can be significantly more difficult to recognize our own. When I moved to New York City, I would commonly hear from loved ones back home that I seemed so adventurous taking my life so far away from Texas. I hear similar things about my recent start in improv and standup comedy. People often ask how I know what to say, how I keep from passing out. I always meet these comments with slight surprise because literally every single one of those things -- moving away from home, standing up in front of strangers and telling jokes, performing completely unrehearsed shows -- scares the living beejeezus out of me. 

But the thing is, regardless of what our friend Merriam-Webster would have you believe, bravery does not exclude fear. It can very much exist alongside it, and it has everything to do with our response to it. Our life's bravest moments are also some of our most terrifying. But it's not about merely putting on a straight face when you actually feel like crapping your pants. Pretending you aren't afraid is not bravery. 

In fact, the opposite is usually always true. For example, Queen Bey herself (Beyonce) taught me that lesson at the Barclays Center back in August. It was the last stop on her Mrs. Carter tour, and after blowing our minds with her rendition of "End of Time", she giggled a perfect giggle and said, "I'm a little nervous, y'all." And the audience erupted with joy at the sheer vulnerability of the moment, and then she started flipping her hair, and it was all amazing.

Brave as all hell

Bravery involves discerning what the situation calls for regardless of how scared you are. It's about knowing with full confidence when to stand up, when to sit down, when to speak loudly, and when to cry. It's the reason why a woman staying seated on a bus and a police officer rushing to a crime scene and a man telling a woman he loves her and a girl raising her hand in class can all be considered people of bravery. It looks different in every scenario, but you know it when you see it. 

And the thing about exhibiting bravery is that it makes others around you more brave, too. I remember being a camp counselor and having to camp out in the woods with a gaggle of eight-year-old girls, each more scared than the other. But the most frightened person out there, of course, was me. I knew the real dangers that existed: snakes, wild dogs, humidity! Still, I knew I had a responsibility to keep it together for my girls, and by morning they all felt like heroes for making it through the night. Bravery insights bravery.

It's how the really big, beautiful decisions of the world eventually get made. One person stands up for something, even though they are scared to death, and others are inspired to do the same. It's a remarkable alternative to the easier, more popular option of cowardice, and it seriously changes the world.

Bravery breaks the norm, but more specifically, it breaks your norm. It defies your body's sympathetic nervous system. It chooses fight when you would absolutely choose flight. 

Think carefully, then, about what bravery looks like for you. It might not necessarily mean putting on a space suit and floating above earth's atmosphere. It might look more like having a tough conversation or going to a social event even though the thought of it makes you really sweaty. It might even mean packing up your bags and moving to New York City to hang out with me (just saying, we've got great brunch options up here). Think on it. Pray on it. Hopefully, you already know what you need to do.

I leave you with the song that inspired it all. Who inspires you to be brave? 


  1. Great post! I hadn't heard that song yet (whaaa? Do I live under a rock or something??) but I love it now!
    I'm inspired to be brave by others completely nerding out over something or just doing their thing and not caring!

    1. Amen to the nerding out thing! That's actually why I love that music video. Everyone dancing around, knowing full well that the people around them think they are nuts -- I want to more like that.

  2. I really like this Nelson Mandela quote: "I learned that courage was not the absence of fear, but the triumph over it. The brave man is not he who does not feel afraid, but he who conquers that fear."

    This is how I've been feeling as a new volunteer on a suicide hotline. It scares the crap out of me, but is a serious rush realizing I can handle it. I imagine doing stand-up comedy would be like that times ten!

    1. Wow, what a great example of bravery. Seriously, congrats on undertaking that challenge. I am sure you are helping so many people who are hurting.

      And I LOVE that quote!


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