Is bravery instilled into the psyche of children, or is it an instinct we’re born with? A family with a strong military tradition might look upon bravery differently than a family of pacifists, although both are capable of courageous acts. When a boy grows up, he is often expected to bury his fears deep down, and if possible, eliminate or at least pretend to eliminate them all together, in order to become a brave man.
What does ‘brave’ actually mean? Is it the absence of a fear of death, or horrific consequences, when someone chooses to act? Does being brave mean going against the consensus, and shouting out that something isn’t right? Or is it simply chipping away at a problem, minute-by-minute, day-by-day, with no real reward, until the world slowly becomes a better place?
The mental and physical acts of bravery displayed by comic book characters like Superman, mythological giants like Achilles or Hercules, and war heroes like Seal Team Six, are easy to identify. Yet there are millions of brave people whose names you’ll never know. Courage is a trait, or value, that comes in many guises. With this in mind, I thought I’d take a look at some of the different forms. The examples here, which admittedly are far from exhaustive, are geared toward men, but most of them could easily be applied to women as well.
The Courageous Hero
The courageous hero doesn’t fear death, or at the very least, pays it little heed. He storms into battle and vanquishes his enemy, or else rushes into a burning building and saves the people inside. He’s willing to risk injury and death on a daily basis, in order to accomplish his goals. Whatever fear he might feel is locked away in a dark basement, and he’s somehow misplaced the key.
The Reluctant Hero
Hobbits are reluctant heroes. This fictional race of small folk with very hairy feet inhabit J.R.R. Tolkien’s fantasy realm, Middle Earth. Hobbits don’t know much about the outside world, but when called on to act, they do so, even if they grumble about it along the way. Despite their aversion to grand deeds, when put to the test, Hobbits truly shine. Bravery is not an ideal they aspire to, but it’s a quality they seem to have in abundance, and come by quite naturally.
The Fearless Fool
Sometimes a person is brave simply because he doesn’t have enough sense to know any better. A man who shows up in a war-torn country in order to rebuild, but doesn’t understand the volatile situation on the ground, might do good work, or he might get himself kidnapped, and force others to risk their lives while trying to save his. Luck plays a big part in the life of the fearless fool.
The Sacrificial Man
He sacrifices his desires and needs for the sake others, and suffers in the process. He might be taking care of a sick relative, a friend in trouble, a schizophrenic neighbor, or a neglected child. Perhaps he was forced to act, or it might have been his choice, but he never lets others forget the pain he has endured as a result. “You don’t know what I’ve given up,” he often says. “Let me tell you now.” Of course, this fact doesn’t take away from his brave deeds, which he’ll probably remind you of, in case you’ve forgotten.
The Bravest Coward
In George R. R. Martin’s fantasy book series, A Song of Ice and Fire, which the television series Game of Thrones is based upon, we meet a character named Samwell Tarly. He’s a plump, uncoordinated fellow who joins a hard-hitting military order because his father cast him out, and he has nowhere else to go. Samwell is a self-confessed coward, unashamed of his shameful shortcomings. He’s no good with a sword, or any weapon of any kind (except obsidian knives), and he shakes and moans when confronted by danger. Yet when push comes to shove, Samwell does the right thing. He puts the needs of others before himself, although he never seems to recognize his own bravery. I’m a big fan of the hidden courage he so often, and so unwittingly displays. There’s nothing boastful about Samwell Tarly, but he’s a good man to have on your side.
The Spiritually Brave
Someone who stands up for what he or she believes to be right, regardless of the consequences, numbers among the spiritually brave. The names of these people resound throughout history, from Gandhi and Lech Walesa, to Nelson Mandela and Rosa Parks. Many go unnamed, the people who battle again social injustices every single day. The risks are great, and often the rewards distant and hard to understand, but still, men and women fight on, because it’s the only choice that makes any sense.
The Everyday Fighter
For some, getting out of bed is an incredibly brave act. They might have to face an abusive spouse, an angry parent, or a relative suffering from Alzheimer’s disease. Their work situation might be appalling, or perhaps they’re coping with their own mental illness, or physical disabilities. They have to deal with a harsh world every day, but still, they go about the business of living. This might not be the kind of bravery generally celebrated in popular culture, but that doesn’t make it any less amazing.
The Anonymous Hero
He fends off your attackers, and leaves before you can thank him. He reports a crime no one else is willing to report, or perhaps donates a sizable chuck of his income to a family in need, without revealing his identity. He’s not a superhero. He’s just an ordinary man. Fame and glory hold no allure for him, but his deeds can be very effective, nonetheless. He is the anonymous hero you’ll never know.
The Brave Politician
Politicians don’t have it easy. No matter what they do or say, someone is going to be unhappy. It’s hard for a politician to buck prevailing wisdom, and risk votes and a career, but it does happen on occasion. Barack Obama did just that when he pushed his healthcare plan. Whether you agree with his policies or not, his healthcare initiative was, and continues to be anything but a political safe bet, which he is acutely aware of. Ronald Reagan also displayed political bravery, when he declared that he sought to eliminate nuclear weapons from the face of the Earth one day. This was a policy approach he would often repeat, even though the hawks in his own party were, and still are, firmly against it.
Bravery, it seems, comes in many forms. A man can willingly take a bullet meant for another, or he can stand up in sea of humanity, offer a voice a dissent, and declare that something isn’t right, even though he knows the masses are against him. Big acts, and little acts of bravery take place all over the world, every day. I hope this tradition, no matter the form, continues for a long time.
Image of child in superhero suit courtesy of Shutterstock