One of my favourite writers had a theme he worked into many of his stories. Ernest Hemingway wrote often about bravery and cowardice, and how they are inextricably linked.
It’s a topic that intrigues me, for no other reason than I wonder if I’m brave, if I would be brave, if a situation ever requires. I’ve never had to stalk into long African grass in hunt of a wounded lion (as Hemingway’s Francis Macomber did). What would I do if confronted with a situation that required an instant of courage? Would I have it in me, or would I panic, as Francis did, when the lion charges from the grass? I don’t know.
Of course, there are different kinds of courage. There is also the kind of bravery that sees one not save themselves but someone else. I have a friend who was honoured with a medal after he pulled a man from a whirlpool on the Fraser River after their jet boat capsized. He didn’t swim for the rocks but went after an ailing companion. I admire the selflessness heroes show.
There are also those who are prepared to stand up against social ills. The civil rights protesters of the southern U.S. in the 1950s and ’60s are a great example.
Think about the extraordinary bravery it must have taken for four young black men to walk into a whites-only cafe and ask for a coffee, as crowds of haters howled at them in anger, with violence hanging on the air. They inspire me.
Such situations, however, are scarce — we will likely never see a burning car wreck with an unconscious driver inside, needing to be heroically freed.
There are still other kinds of bravery, however, more common and less dramatic and well within our reach.
There is bravery in restraint, for example. It takes courage to walk away from friends when it would be easy to join a mob and destroy a downtown.
It takes strength to stand up for someone else, deal directly with neighbours instead of calling bylaws, or smile and be polite to a homeless guy instead of shirking away in apprehension simply because he asked for change. Smaller acts of bravery, to be sure, but meaningful.
Perhaps the simplest kind of bravery, however, is that which comes from self-acceptance. In my mind, it’s the most beautiful form of bravery because it has the potential to affect so many other people.
With that in mind, I think about my daughter’s bravery, and realize if anyone inspires me to think I might be brave one day if it’s ever required of me, it’s her. She’s in Grade 5 and has alopecia, an uncommon auto-immune condition that has claimed her hair.
She is 10 years old and bald and she is happy and faces the world every day whistling (literally, she likes to whistle) as she goes, despite the many stares.
She is brave.
And she makes me hope I can be too, that we all can. She makes me believe we can stand up to others, take on social injustice, rescue others from danger and yes, maybe even face a charging lion if we have to.
I think that’s what’s most important, to believe we can be brave — to be inspired by the courage of others — so we can expect it of ourselves if, or when, the time comes. And to recognize the most important kind of bravery may not be what we think it is.