Monday, August 24, 2015

What is Courage?

If you are on FB as much as I am (or even a little less), you’ve probably seen posts about Caitlyn Jenner, and even more posts that begin with “I’m so sick of Bruce Jenner being called a hero … “ and memes that mock his “courageous” status as a publicity stunt and not worthy of being compared to “real” hero, like a soldier, veteran, cancer survivor, etc …

The Google dictionaries basically define the synonyms courage and bravery as “the ability to do something that frightens one” and “ready to face and endure danger or pain.” A hero is defined as “a brave person.”

I have a question for you that I alluded to in my last blog: Do you think Caitlyn Jenner didn’t know the worldwide backlash she would get for what she did? You don’t consider her moving forward in spite of that brave?

I wonder how many times you yourself have kept your mouth shut out of some type of fear of reprisal or repercussion (or even personal discomfort), and I wonder, too, if your own audience was as large as hers is?

What she did isn’t as brave as a soldier fighting for our country? Or because she has money and a television show that makes her less brave? This whole “who is more courageous” argument is beginning to play out very much like locker room conversation.

I’m going to be brave here – because I know full well that what I say next will piss some people off, and others will deliberately misunderstand the point I am going to make:

How is a soldier brave for doing his job? Something he or she signed up to do?

I’m sure I completely lost attention from a few people after that last comment – those that are quick to judge without looking at a bigger picture, the same who are posting hateful memes about other people and their decisions. What I said is by no means any type of condemnation or denigration of their sacrifices, but it is a valid perspective. Just like every perspective is, and isn’t.

Hey, I’m just playing devil’s advocate here. We – myself included – need to stop tearing each other down. We need to be aware of the bigger picture. We need a little more perspective.

I have the utmost respect for the men and women in the military. I come from a military family and my brother served tours in Afghanistan and Iraq. And I salute you all for your bravery, because I can’t honestly say I could do that.

Of course, now, if I stretched that last statement of mine further, I must be a coward, right? Because I won’t engage in battle and fight for my country?

Let’s go back to our definitions of courage and bravery:

“The ability to do something that frightens one; ready to face and endure danger or pain.”

The ability to do something that frightens one.

Think about that.

Ready to face and endure danger or pain.

Think about that, too.

Do you fully understand what those two statements mean? It means that when you are being brave, you are only battling your own fears; your fears of the unknown and your fears of what you feel may happen to you for facing that fear.

Taking that one step further:

The only person who can accurately gauge the courage of a person is that person alone and no one else, because only that person knows what he or she had to overcome to do or accomplish something.

Think about any time you had conquered one of your own fears, no matter how small – I’ll bet at the time, it didn’t seem so small, did it?

People who make comparisons between their opinions of another’s bravery are not only slighting the other person, they are slighting themselves. Without even realizing it, they are downplaying their own moments of bravery.

Susan Jeffers said, “Feel the fear and do it anyway.” This quote has been repeated so often the real meaning is lost – like so many other important statements (Bible verses included). What fear we feel is personal to each one of us, so how is anyone else able to judge our courage if they don’t feel the depth of our fear?

A simple example could be the child who finally stands up to a bully, whether for himself or in defense of another. In the mind of that chi
ld, that bully has the power to hurt or kill him. How is that child less brave than a soldier in battle?

It is perspective we need to be able to judge less.

At the very least, we need the perspective that allows us to realize the limits of our own perspective.

I never considered myself to be brave. I never thought myself to be a coward, either. I liked to think that if the time came for me to have courage I would – never paying attention to the full scope of the idea of doing something that frightens me, ready to face (danger or) pain.

I know now that I am braver than I used to think. I have consciously began to face my fears and do things in spite of them.

I faced my father when I was 21.  You may not think that’s a big deal, but my relationship with my father consumed most of my life up until that point. That wasn’t easy for me.

I left an abusive relationship. Some may feel they would never be in one – that is wonderful. But I was. And I got out – two years after I wrote an “if anything happens to me …” letter. That wasn’t easy for me.

I officially announced to anyone within ear- or screen-shot that I was a writer. Small for you, maybe; but not for me. I know how hard it was to feel that I was denying myself a large part of myself for most of my life – I can’t imagine how hard it must be for others who’ve denied more.

I wrote and published about a few bad times in my life. I still feel some measure of fear every time I hit “publish.”

I don’t smile much because my teeth are bad. I’m finally in a position to begin taking care of it, and I know it’s going to get worse before it gets better. This has been something that has affected me for a very long time. I’ve learned to hide behind my hair and change the way I talk, because I’m insecure about it (that is an understatement). But I’m in the process of taking care of it now, and pushing on to not let it restrict me the way it used to. I am extremely self-conscious every single time I talk to someone or meet someone new. Even now. You have no idea what this is costing me to admit this to you, those of you that have only seen me in careful pictures (and I don’t yet have to worry about internet memes the way some people do). 

Guess what? All of that makes me brave and courageous. How do I know? Because I know how much each one of those steps costs me. Yay me.

Guess what else? None of it has anything to do with you. I don't have to explain or make you believe that overcoming any of these issues was brave on my part, nor do I have to take your assessment of how brave my actions have been.

We can only assume the depths of someone else’s courage, but we will never know because we are not them. If we can’t honestly know how frightened or fearful of some type of pain a person was regarding doing or being something, then we can’t honestly know how courageous they were. 

Are the people who valiantly ‘fight’ a battle or disease more courageous than those who aren't fighting anything physical? If so, why? How is that type of selection made? And what about the fact that some people's fear of death is less than their fear of mockery or shame?

There are so many different types of courage; we should not be invalidating any of them by judging only certain forms as valid. We shouldn't be comparing anything.

We all have our own obstacles to overcome. All of us. And all of us are brave and courageous and heroes when we make the decision to stand up for ourselves to ourselves, without letting the fear of what others may do to us in any way.

This is also a method of being true to our own beliefs. I have mine; you have yours. I am allowed mine just as much as you are allowed yours. I’m not even asking you to change what you believe.  I’m just suggesting that you try looking at things from a different perspective – not to change your mind, but to open it enough to allow the hate room to escape. To understand that the hate and intolerance you carry for others festers inside of you and robs from you even more than the people your force it on.

If you feel that someone else's actions or efforts are heroic or brave, celebrate it and be inspired by it. If others feel that a person shows courage, and you don't agree, keep it to yourself. By demeaning what someone else feels is somehow worthy, you are taking away something that could inspire them in some way.

We are all in this together, and we waste so much time judging, hating and blaming others, and drawing lines between us that shouldn’t be there, instead of celebrating the hero each one of us can be.

Be brave enough to be yourself.

Be more courageous by allowing others to be who they are.