Bravery…it’s a peculiar concept. The word conjures up images of brave knights and shining armour, of soldiers going into battle, but is it more than this? This vague and narrow application of the word bravery has been perplexing me somewhat this week, because we see bravery in so many more guises, but often they are quiet and easily missed, or, most often, just dismissed by the person who is demonstrating this sentiment.
I’m thinking of the people who face incredible health challenges in their lifetime, but learn not only to live with the difficulties, but also who go on to challenge the definition of their illness and achieve astounding accomplishments in their lives.
Or those who are willing to stand up to adversity on behalf of others and protest in the face of opposition from people, companies or even governments.
These are indeed brave actions. Sometimes the mantle is given to us with little or no choice as is the case with illness, and other times we can be moved to action by the unfairness of a situation.
But what about those times where taking action by the individual might seem easy and ordinary to the outside observer, but to the doer it might require them to call upon a level of confidence which they don’t feel they currently possess?
In saying this, I am reminded of an excellent quote by Jim Hightower:
The opposite for courage is not cowardice, it is conformity. Even a dead fish can go with the flow.
But is this true?
Can we call it bravery (or courage) when we choose to move outside the bounds of ‘acceptable behaviour’? Can being rebellious ever be construed as bravery? ‘Acceptable behaviours’ and ‘rebelliousness’ are both very emotive words as well as having an inclination towards ambiguity in this context, after all, acceptable behaviour could be construed as good or nice behaviour or could also be associated with conformity. On the other hand, to be rebellious has negative connotations; behaviour is no longer acceptable and in many cases will not only be negatively judged but also punished. But in another context, some rebels are admired and in the extreme become leaders.
But for the most part, as individuals we don’t want to be labelled as conformists, a word that can be quite controversial. It’s my belief that we prefer to show a little rebelliousness in our attitude now and then to show that we know our own minds and we do our own thing. But, do we actively ‘rebel’ or just step outside the realms of the ‘ordinary’?
We are, after all, social creatures and so naturally to fit in we have to conform to the spoken and, more likely, unspoken rules of the group we choose to belong to. Failure to conform would put us outside the ‘norm’, and we wouldn’t fit in any longer.
However, if we felt that the group was no longer meeting our needs, but we didn’t feel brave enough to leave, where would that leave us?
Well, it would probably leave us feeling unhappy and unfulfilled, so maybe taking a stand and making a change would be the best way to go, even though in the short term this is likely to feel very uncomfortable. But, the thing we need to remember when we find ourselves in this sort of situation, is that whilst initially it might feel like we are isolated and maybe even lonely, it will only take a short time before we will find that we are part of a new, different group as we will be attracted (pulled) towards people who are interested in the same sorts of things as we now are.
And this is the dilemma we can find ourselves in at any time when we’ve reached a point in our lives where we want to make some kind of change, but, in order to remain with our existing crowd we must continue to fit…or conform.
Take a look at these words from a well-known non-conformist:
In fact, my courage and my bravery at a young age was the thing I was bullied for, a kind of ‘Who do you think you are?’
Lady Gaga’s quote is suggesting this idea: in her little school world, she was different and so didn’t comfortably fit into the school yard ‘cliques’. Consequently she was bullied for being different. In the adult, and wider world however, even though she remains dissimilar to the masses in her tastes and her vast amount of drive to succeed, she is accepted and even celebrated within the music world and by her legions or adoring fans.
For Lady Gaga then, despite the pain of being bullied, she would not or even could not conform and this was therefore a kind of bravery. She challenged the acceptable and the ordinary and grew beyond it, and in that way used her rebelliousness to create something different and thereby became a leader within her now (conformed) group.
So, let’s not forget, that:
It requires bravery to do something no one else around you is doing.
Sometimes the things we stretch ourselves to do may be ordinary in and of themselves, but, they are perceived as extra-ordinary within our existing group. So, no matter what the size of the change we want to make, it will still require a level of bravery on our part.
It’s difficult to step outside the acceptable behaviour of our existing group of friends or even our family norms. In doing so, we will be challenged and sometimes coerced into re-conforming to the normal behaviour of the group. But, if we aspire to grow or have already grown beyond the boundaries of our established group, then we will need to find the bravery to not only step outside, but to keep going until we find a new group to belong to.
A final point to bear in mind: sometimes we’re not the one making the change. Instead we’re the person within the group struggling to come to terms with the changes our friend or family member is bringing about. We may inadvertently be undermining their attempts at growth as we cling to wanting to keep things the way they always were.
Remember they will be calling on reserves of bravery to make the changes they need and this bravery will likely be fragile. What could you do to help and empower them? Their gratitude in your support will ensure your friendship grows too, rather than it being weakened by clinginess…
Do you have a bravery story to tell? Or maybe you’ve helped someone to grow and leave your group? Please share your story!