One of the bravest things I’ve ever seen anyone do was done by my daughter when she was 12 years old. I don’t usually tell stories on my family, but I asked and have permission. So, here’s what happened.
Everybody was afraid. After all, it wasn’t only the middle schoolers in the talent show; there were high school kids, too. Plus, everybody’s parents would be there, as well.
The girls kept talking about how nervous they were. “It’ll be fine,” I said, as only one who hadn’t agreed to stand up in front of the whole school and risk humiliation can do. But right before the show, the other two girls came to Mary and said they didn’t want to go through with it. They weren’t comfortable. They felt scared, afraid they hadn’t prepared enough.
“So much for that,” I thought. “They’re not going to do it.”
I must admit, I sense of relief overcame me. I didn’t want my baby girl to get up in front of everyone and do something that she might find humiliating if somebody messed up. If you have kids, who are old enough to embarrass themselves, you know the kind of fear I’m talking about. It’s not the ‘messing up’ so much as what messing up feels like—and you’d move heaven and earth to protect your child from that kind of crushing self-doubt and recrimination.
So, there I was, sitting by myself—privately tickled that I didn’t have to brave the hula-hoop routine—when Mary came up to me. I was all ready to console her and tell her that everything was all right, that these things happen. That there would be time to get ready for next year. You know how that talk goes.
But Mary said, “Dad, I’ve made a decision.”
“What’s that?” I said, with a sinking feeling.
“I’m going to do the routine myself.”
“But, what about the other girls?”
“They’re not doing it. They said they were too nervous.”
“Yeah, I know that,” I said. “But…aren’t you nervous, too?”
“I am, but I’m going to do it anyway. I worked too hard not to go through with it.”
What was I supposed to say? “Honey, that’s all well and good, but can you stop for a moment and think about me for once? You know, how’s this going to affect me? Because you’re not going to be the one trying to hold the pieces of a little girl’s heart together with hands that are inadequate for the task. Yeah, that’s going to be me. So, if it’s all the same to you, I think you should just sit this one out.”
But, of course, I couldn’t say that, so I just said, “I’m really proud of you, sweetie. I know that was a difficult decision.”
It made me realize, yet again, that it’s a good thing for parents that kids don’t get a front row seat to our inner monologues…or they’d completely lose all confidence in our competency.
So, Mary’s turn came up, and she walked onto the stage…and crushed it! Nerves and all. In spite of the fact that she was stuck with a stupid dad, incapable of getting beyond his own anxiety.
It was one of the bravest things I’ve ever seen. Despite her anxiety, her disappointment at being let down by her friends, and the feeling of being all alone in front of a crowd…she kept going.
I’ll never forget it.
Bravery, according to Aristotle, is a virtue. A virtue is the mean between two extremes. The scope of bravery, which occurs within a spectrum, ranges from cowardice on one end and rashness on the other.
The cowardly person is too afraid to do the right thing. The rash person is a fool because they aren’t afraid enough. Rash people don’t usually last very long. In the mountains, we used to call this person the “Hold my beer” guy. You know the type. As in, “I’ll bet you couldn’t jump off the bridge while sitting in a lawn chair and holding lit fireworks.”
“Oh yeah? Hold my beer!”
The brave person, on the other hand, is the person who is appropriately afraid, but who nevertheless acts to do the right thing anyway.
I was thinking about bravery the other day, as I surveyed the current political landscape, where bravery seems like such a quaint concept, sepia-toned and stored behind glass.
Most telling is that we seem shocked more by the exercise of bravery—of doing the difficult thing, despite the pressures to give in to a painless alternative—than by its absence. Whether it’s healthcare, government corruption, dealing with the environment, or taking on the opioid epidemic, we seem to be surrounded by people with very little acquaintance with the virtue of bravery.
In the end, if we’re to survive the rash of cowardice that plagues so much of our current leadership, we’re going to need a lot more people, who in the face of great anxiety and at great risk to themselves, are willing get up and dance…alone, if necessary.
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