Princess Merida from Disney Pixar’s “Brave”

What does it mean to be brave? I have been thinking about this a lot lately.

(Apparently, I’m not the only one: the theme for November’s Creative Mornings breakfast lectures is bravery.)

According to the Merriam-Webster dictionary, the primary definition of brave is “feeling or showing no fear; not afraid.” If you look at the word’s roots in Old Italian and Spanish (“bravo“), it means courageous or wild.

I prefer the historic definition to the idea of ‘no fear’ because, let’s face it, we’re all afraid of something. There’s something very superficial about the modern understanding of bravery (if the dictionary is to be trusted) that doesn’t mirror the depth of what the word evokes.

Because, at its core, isn’t bravery about confronting what scares us and overcoming that fear?

Call me crazy, but it sounds like it’s all about fear.

When I think of the things that scare me, I am first stunned. Not because my fears are like Medusa with her mane of stone-cold snakes or a curse out of Harry Potter, but because I’m struck by how overwhelmed I get and not how overwhelming my fears are.

What helps temper my understanding of fear is to think of the ones I have confronted and overcome in the past. Each confrontation may represent a small victory, but woven together, I see a tapestry of moments that show me what bravery means in my daily life.

Opening my heart wholly to someone new, exploring new cities on my own, speaking up, starting my own business, sharing my writing publicly: these are just a few examples of my courage, my wildness. And I have been rewarded in each of those situations.

We accept that resilience in the face of war and illness is brave. But what about everyday, garden variety bravery? It does exist, like overcoming social anxiety and performing a speech in this Google Nexus commercial.

I love that commercial because I feel like it’s true to what most of us face in life: there are challenges in the road ahead of us. They won’t necessarily hurt us, but the risk and danger we think they pose skews our perception.

But what do we do? Perhaps we cower away. I know I have done this in very dumb situations.

Or, if that option isn’t available (and it usually isn’t), we prepare. We educate ourselves, talk it out, take a deep breath and take the plunge.

This doesn’t guarantee success, but what it does guarantee is that sense of relief and flush of pride. Yes, I did it! Yes, I understand myself better. Yes, I can do better. Be better.

Then you reach this beautiful, pure understanding without having to say the actual words:

Yes, I’m brave. I can definitely be brave.


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