What does it mean to be brave?
So often, people assume bravery and courage mean the same thing. And they don’t. Synonymous doesn’t translate to exact likeness, but to similarity. The same applies to to bravery and courage. I think one is more of action, while the other is more about feeling. I believe that acts of bravery are sourced from the actions of courage felt within the heart.
I love to look at the etymological denotations of words, and see how they’ve changed in interpretation and application over time. With bravery, which comes from the Latin barbarus, and interestingly translates to foreign or strange. Yet bravery is “courageous behavior or character” in modern context.
When you see the word barbarus, the next word that comes to mind is barbarian, which historically has been the label of the ‘other’ or ‘uncivilized peoples’ or ‘invaders.’ Maybe that’s why people like Braveheart so much. The crazy, uncivilized, barbaric Scotsman who saves the day, despite the incredible odds he faces. He literally has a brave heart, full of courage.
Now, courage translates from the Latin cor or “heart.” This complicated organ has whole novels inspired by it. But I’m gonna stay with my Braveheart allusion. I think that the feelings within William Wallace’s heart accurately represent the modern definitions of courage as, “the ability to do something that frightens one” and “strength in the face of pain or grief.”
If you can stare yourself in the face, despite the gnawing ache at your core, that’s bravery. The question really is, can you face your pain or grief and muster the strength to overcome it?
Do I feel like a brave person?
I can’t say that I always have. For much of my life, I’ve felt like I’m chasing who I’m supposed to be. I wasn’t courageous at heart, and thus didn’t act bravely. I was no Merida or William Wallace.
I was the nervous, anxious little bookworm who read about others’ adventures. I don’t remember being outspoken, as much as bossy, critical, and controlling. I’ll tell you what: Bravery doesn’t have time for control freaks. In my experience as a former perfectionist, feeling the need to control everything just means you’re afraid of everything you can’t control.
Reality check: that’s life. On my thirteenth birthday, I made the resolution to act my age. I wanted to feel like a kid. I was sick of being told I was so mature for my age. Maturity in middle school mean’t you weren’t cool or made friends with people who did act your age. Thank God for the great friends I had who had no problem with my seriousness.
Needless to say, after I made this personal resolution, life was much more enjoyable. I felt less and less like I was chasing who I was supposed to be. No longer was I chasing a mystical idea of how I should be, but letting God and my soul show me the way.
“There are those who say fate is something beyond our command. That destiny is not our own, but I know better. Our fate lives within us; you only have to be brave enough to see it.”
As another brave Scot so aptly puts it, our fate lives within us. I finally began to feel, believe, and know this concept in high school and college.
My teenage friends saw me as this brash, bubbly, spontaneous girl who could light up a room effortlessly. I still was afraid all the time: of being alone, of embarrassing myself, of being myself, of doing the ‘right’ thing, of fitting in. Adolescence is all about succumbing or overcoming your fears. And I did a little bit of both.
I began to understand the taste of feet somewhere in my freshman year, when I told a boy I didn’t like. Now, that might be impressive enough as a fourteen-year-old, but there’s more. I waited until the end of the school day, when everyone was at their lockers in the freshman hall. I walked up to this boy, as he sat amongst his friends, and declared loudly, stupidly, shamelessly, and fearlessly, “I don’t like you,____.”
Mind you, not only was this exclaimed amidst his friends, but within earshot of the next ten closest people or so. I’ve always had a voice that carries, in addition to how fervently I believed this poor boy needed to hear how I felt about him.
Some might call this bravery, although I call it stupidity. But that’s okay. Growing pains are as much metaphorical as literal, and I’ve since learned not to be this publically ‘courageous’ with such juvenile matters.
Now, I can say I feel like a brave person.
Anecdotal example aside, I’ve overcome much more since then. There’s far too many examples in the decade plus of time since this story.
What I know now is that one of the hardest things to do, especially as an adult, is to face yourself. That includes facing your mistakes, flaws, and so forth. That means sucking it up, buttercup, and persevering.
I feel brave because, in my heart of hearts, at my core, I feel courageous. I am empowered by the love of my people. I am lifted by the knowledge of my inherent worth. I am alight with Christ’s light. I am free to send my demons back to the hell from whence they came.