Saturday, 5 March 2016

How very brave

The word "brave" is thrown around so carelessly nowadays, it's almost lost any meaning. People use it about quite routine everyday events like dealing with an illness or going out in cold weather. But it ought to mean something much weightier than that, something truly courageous.

Personally I think one of the bravest things is simply to be yourself - to stand up for your own opinions and convictions when everyone around you is saying something totally different. And when they may be violently hostile if you disagree with them.

Openly defending women for example, when you're surrounded by men being aggressively misogynistic. You can be met by frosty stares, ridicule or personal abuse. Plenty of people would keep their mouths shut rather than speaking out.

Then again, some people would say that isn't really bravery, it's just self-assertion. Real bravery, they say, is taking serious physical risks - on a battlefield, or fighting a fire, or rescuing someone in danger. Disregarding your own safety for the sake of others is the real test of your inner mettle.

A lot of people talk about someone's brave fight against cancer. But what's brave about it? You fight cancer because you have to - either you fight or you die. You aren't taking a physical risk, you aren't challenging anyone, you're just doing what you have to do.

Or people say it's brave to make a new start in life - to move to another country, or change your career, or remarry. But again, is that true bravery or just doing what you have to do - abandoning something you never felt comfortable with?

I think we should use the word "brave" more sparingly, more accurately, and not chuck it around like a casual compliment. Otherwise genuine bravery - like that of Malala Yousafzai - gets overlooked and devalued.

32 comments:

Rummuser said...

I could not agree more. To get its real meaning it must be used sparingly.

Maria said...

Hello Nick, thank you for your reply to me on Jackie's blog.
So true and I agree with you - I am battling cancer and I just get along with it, nothing brave about it. Greetings Maria x

Nick said...

Ramana: Yes, sparingly and referring to genuine bravery rather than quite ordinary experiences.

Maria: Benvenuta! Sorry to hear you have cancer. I hope you manage to defeat it. My father succumbed eventually to lung cancer.

Grannymar said...

In my book a little and definitely not often is the way to use the word brave.

Nick said...

Grannymar: Exactly. The word is tossed about too freely. It should be reserved for actions that are truly awesome.

tammy j said...

I agree. and I would add the over use of the word hero.
everyone who serves overseas now is called by the media 'a hero.'
my nephew who is regular air force and in the special forces is particularly against that kind of nomenclature.
he said 'we are simply doing our JOB. it's a job. just like other people have jobs. and you do it to the best of your ability. it doesn't make you automatically a hero."
I think a lot of that talk of bravery and heroism comes from the climate of video games and movies that tout ACTION and risk taking and war and on and on and on. so tiresome.
but...
to say that maria and those fighting cancer are not necessarily brave I think is a bit of a misnomer. when something robs you of every bit of energy you have for life and if the pain is bad enough... it takes a certain amount of bravery to simply face each day. and it is my experience that those people doing so have a quiet inner bravery that doesn't come close to what is in the media message!
great post nick.
as always. wonderful food for thought. xo

Ms Scarlet said...

People chuck all sorts of words about all over the place.... I guess that by using a powerful word they feel that they are expressing their depth of feeling towards the other person?
Sx

Nick said...

Tammy: That's right, anyone in the armed forces becomes a hero, whatever they did, which is ridiculous. You have a point about facing each day despite the pain and exhaustion. Though maybe that's simple determination rather than bravery?

CheerfulMonk said...

I disagree. I think we should applaud courage/bravery even in small things. The world needs a lot more of it.

Nick said...

Scarlet: Interesting idea - a dubious word with a powerful emotion behind it. But I think over-using the word drains it of meaning and ends up cheapening examples of genuine bravery.

Nick said...

Jean: But my question is - are we looking at bravery in the true sense of the word or is it simply someone getting on with life?

Ms Scarlet said...

What word would you use, Nick, instead of 'brave'? I described someone as brave the other day for using a gilding method that I'm frightened to try! Maybe when we see others dealing with stuff that frightens us (like cancer) we call them brave.
Sx

Jennifer said...

I did not know this,Maria. I hope you're coping well with your treatments. My husband had stage 3b lung cancer almost 5 years ago. He's doing great now thank goodness, but he had a rough year getting rid of it. Best wishes, my friend!

CheerfulMonk said...

Bravery in the true sense of the word or just getting on with life? I think people should be applauded for getting on with life well. It's no mean feat. Yay, us!

kylie said...

I think bravery comes in many sizes and it should be celebrated every time.

I have done lots of things that would be insignificant to others but felt brave and caused me to grow. I have also done things that other people saw as brave but I just thought it was something i needed or wanted to do.

In the end, bravery is about getting out of one's comfort zone, which is tougher for some of us than others.

Maria said...

Grazie, Nick for the welcome and, may I please reply to two of your readers.
Tammy, I've never thought of it as bravery, I think of it as one of those things that life throws at you; learn to accept or work your way through the best possible of ways.
Thank you, Jennifer. I have lovely friends and family that keep me going, I'm tough and determined. Stories with happy endings, like that of your husband, Gregg give me hope, I am happy for you both, him and also for you, as it involves all loved ones - they suffer just as much. Greetings Maria xx

Nick said...

Scarlet: What word would I use instead? Maybe determined, or adventurous, or assertive? But yes, I guess it's possible to feel "brave" doing something that others would find quite unremarkable.

Jennifer: Your husband was very lucky. I gather lung cancer is pretty lethal. My father had it and survived for just six months.

Nick said...

Jean: Certainly people should be applauded for getting on with life well. Too many people make a complete mess of their lives for one reason or another.

Kylie: I agree there's a subjective element and what's brave to one person is run-of-the-mill to someone else. Yes, in a way I suppose it's about getting out of your comfort zone, though to me that just means being a bit adventurous or bloody-minded.

Nick said...

Maria: It really helps to have friends and family who support you all the way in a tough situation. If you're on your own, it's much harder. The best of luck with your own medical battle.

Jennifer said...

Yes, he was lucky. But the treatment was radical...he lost his entire left lung. Then he had chemo afterwards as extra insurance that no cancer remained. The chemo was harder than the surgery. But here he is, almost 5 years later, doing GREAT.

Take heart, Maria. Even dire cases can have wonderful outcomes. I think lots of support from friends and family makes a huge difference. So does eating well during treatment, exercising when you can (Gregg walked with our dog almost daily), and keeping your spirits up as much as possible.

Okay, sorry for hijacking your comments, Nick!

Nick said...

Jennifer: Losing a lung is no joke, but I'm glad he's now doing so well. Don't worry about hijacking the comments - all in a good cause!

Dave Martin said...

I agree mostly, Nick, but at the same time there should perhaps be a certain allowance for a personal perspective; what may seem normal for one person may be brave to another.
A soldier may feel he's just doing his job, but I consider it incredibly brave to put yourself in a situation where your attempts to do good could get you killed.
That case the other day where a pregnant woman was stabbed in Sutton Coldfield, and strangers intervened and took the guy down. That took guts to tackle someone clearly unhinged and wielding a knife, regardless of whether their actions were instinctive.
Your point about the increasingly inappropriate use of the word is definitely true though.

Helen Devries said...

We've had the 'aren't you brave moving abroad'...and you're right, nothing brave about it: my husband has had bouts of cancer and again you're right...you just get on with it - not much option.

And I'd like to have seen my father's reaction to anyone who called him a hero during his time in the army...his reaction to 'unpleasantnesses' was 'if you can't take a joke you shouldn't have joined'...

Keith Smith said...

Well I think it's very brave of you to write about such a controversial subject as this.

My old dad was awarded the Iron Cross in WWII for bravery, but he never mentioned to anyone outside the family, ever. Apparently he killed more of our men than that of the enemy. "Friendly fire"?

Nick said...

Dave: That's a good point that you and others have made, that the idea of bravery is relative to what the individual feels capable of. And I agree that anyone taking extreme physical risks is undoubtedly being brave.

Helen: Jenny and I got that all the time when we were moving to Belfast - how "brave" we were being. No, just adventurous and enterprising. I like your father's sanguine reference to "unpleasantnesses".

Nick said...

Keith: Really, he killed more of his own than the enemy? In that case, it's not surprising he didn't talk about it!

John Gray said...

Is being yourself brave! ?
Depends if your " normal" is the right way to be

Nick said...

John: Quite so. If you're gay and surrounded by gay-bashers, it's pretty daring to admit you're gay. In which case I'd say being yourself is very much a brave act.

Wisewebwoman said...

Nick - are you brave?

Are soldiers brave? Foolish maybe. Impoverished poor souls working for the Masters, cannon-fodder under the direction of the Invisibles.

Like you say, fighting cancer ain't brave.

I'm not brave though people keep telling me I am. I just follow my heart. Basically.

We need to protect the word.

XO
WWW

Nick said...

www: I think "bravery" can only mean something that involves serious physical risk or serious social or family ostracism. To say someone's brave when they're simply dealing with things life has thrown at them - it's entirely the wrong word.

Secret Agent Woman said...

I see Tammy beat me to the punch in noting that "hero" is also an over-used word.

To me, bravery is doing something that scares you in spite of your fears. So there may be people who don't feel fear and rescue someone and while what they are doing is wonderful, it isn't "brave." Then there are people who push through their fears to do something far more mundane (move to a new place, try something new) who are showing some courage. All that said, I rarely use the word brave unless it is a pretty significant act.

Nick said...

Agent: Indeed, "hero" is flung about carelessly as well. And yes, the subjective element again - it's only truly brave if it's something you personally are fearful of, and you have to overcome that fear.