ARE THEY INTER-CHANGEABLE?
Some people consider bravery and courage to be synonyms, therefore inter-changeable. Yes, they both indicate boldness in one form or another; a healthy dose of an intrepid attitude; an ability to face danger, the unknown, difficult situations. However, courage can also be considered to have the extra element - that of fear - that has to be overcome in order for them to be brave. A fear that they may choose to, or feel they have to, hide from others in order to support them, or to prevent spreading that fear in their direction, as in a leader maybe.
As differencebetween.net says – ‘Courage and bravery – just another pair of English words that can be found side by side in a thesaurus entry.’
COURAGE DOESN’T MEAN FEAR IS ABSENT
As differencebetween.net again tells us –
‘Bravery is the ability to confront pain, danger, or attempts of intimidation without any feeling of fear. It is strength in character that allows a person to always be seemingly bigger than the crisis, whether he is indeed more powerful or lesser than what he is facing. Courage, on the other hand, is the ability to undertake an overwhelming difficulty or pain despite the eminent and unavoidable presence of fear. More than a quality, it is a state of mind driven by a cause that makes the struggle worth it. Unlike in the case of bravery, a person fuelled by courage may feel inevitably small in the face of peril, pain, or problems.’
I always reflect more on my parents around this time of year, when we have the solemn Remembrance Day services and wear our poppies as a symbol of that remembering. My Dad, George, was a quiet, gentle very nervous man, always happiest at home with his family or pottering in his greenhouse and garden. These days, I am sure that he would have been diagnosed as suffering from anxiety as I am now aware of just how badly it affected him both physically and emotionally.
He always explained that during his military service, he wasn’t brave. This was because, although he had a gun and, I presume, had had instruction on how to use it, he had actually never used it. I recently re-read the tiny diary that he wrote from just before he left England and I beg leave to differ on his self-appraisal. His service took the form of being a clerk. He was responsible for ensuring that all supplies were where they were needed, and that this happened when they were needed. He was able to make use of the clerical and organisational skills that he had whilst having to dive under his sand-bagged lorry (aka his office) if under fire, and regularly drive through unknown European roads with no road signs and mere slits for headlights.
He used to make use of humour as a way of telling stories about events during this period of his life. One I remember, probably because it was repeated many times during later years, was of an inspection by Field Marshal Montgomery. As an important happening, the men were ‘loaned’ new uniforms to wear. He described these as stiff as cardboard, itchy as hell and reeking of camphor. My Dad, at 5ft 3 ins tall, wasn’t what would be considered a standard issue size, so he was just given the smallest they had. Trousers were tucked into boots. As for the jacket – he described it as feeling rather like a tortoise trying to poke its head out of its shell. OK, his eyes were on show out of the collar, his nose just got there, but his mouth and chin remained within the collar. He said that as Monty passed him, he stretched up with all his might so that most of his face was present and correct. Never let it be said that my Dad wasn’t a tryer! I sort of imagined that he would have liked to have been able to keep this jacket – and wear it to make the world go away for him when his anxiety was bad. To me, he was so courageous as he fought his battle against anxiety and his fear of it taking over, along with those who were fighting on the front line.
SOMETIMES IT’S A BATTLE BETWEEN FEAR AND COURAGE
I have to say that I thought I had won one particular battle some years ago. It is far from life threatening, but it did surprise me when it recently came to the forefront.
I was on the coast. Something that hasn’t happened for many years. I used to be concerned about walking along a good old British pier. I managed it one day on this trip, though I was aware that my thumbs had automatically gone to hold my rings in place and that my fingers had automatically clenched over them as additional security. Though I have to say, that my rings simply dropping off isn’t something that ever happens. But, I walked along the pier, keeping my eyes fixed on the sea, the shoreline, anything but the pier. I was pleased to have achieved this.
However, the following day, and enter another pier whose gaps between its wooden planks were a bit wider. I managed a couple of steps, thumbs and fists very firmly in place as those rings were NOT going to fall off and splash into the water below. Then I simply froze. Even though I knew that the pier was strong, my flat shoes weren’t going to get caught in the gaps. I am not aware of ever having dropped anything through the gaps in years gone by, but the good old flight or fight response had clicked in. I, lacking evidence of even a small iota of courage, had to turn and quickly exit from what had become a very threatening place to be. Why couldn’t I summon up my courage? I guess it’s a good job that a stroll along a pier isn’t something that happens very often. If it was, I guess I would have to write a hypnosis script and listen to myself.
Could it be that I just felt that I didn’t actually need to take that walk – although I did want to, so my courage didn’t push on through? Or, as Brene Brown says in her book ‘The Gifts of Imperfection’ - “Courage is…a habit, a virtue: You get it by courageous acts. It’s like you learn to swim by swimming. You learn courage by couraging.” Have I been out of the practice of calling my courageous self into being my default setting?
I think I have been reasonably courageous – I have stood up on behalf of the clients I supported in my past voluntary work. I challenged psychiatrists not to put down we voluntary counsellors, especially as they had referred clients to us. I challenged my own thoughts about getting back out into the world around me after lockdown and was able to do this. However, I know that there are some things I do not even attempt to challenge such as my inability to drive at night because of my cataracts. I know it would be plain stupid to do this as automatically closing your eye when confronted by the lights of an on-coming car is anything but a good idea. So, maybe it’s back to that difference between wanting and needing? Had there been someone needing my help along that pier, would I have simply strode out to get to them, ignoring those gaps? Something about which I can only wonder as fortunately all was well with the other people enjoying their strolling in the sea breeze.
WHAT CAN HELP?
Having a good role model is always helpful. What better for me than remembering my Dad and his courage, although I am sure that it must have let him down at times. Also helpful is a little self-reflection. Thinking back to times, events when you have been courageous, but probably not recognising at the time that this was so. So many of us are far too good at putting ourselves down. Yet, we need to also acknowledge when we have done something that deserves a pat on the back and a hearty ‘well done you’!
COURAGE COMES IN MANY FORMS
That courage can come with medals, headlines, bells and whistles. As with the firemen, medics, police officers who ran towards those New York twin towers. Surely, they must have been fearful, yet their courage outweighed this as they battled on in an effort to save people. They, though unknown to most of us were very rightly celebrated for their amazing shows of courage.
However, it can be, and so often is, present in the quiet, unassuming ones, slipping under the radar of the public at large, unmentioned. Those who have to summon up every ounce of their courage to get themselves out of bed each day. Those who summon up the courage to re-learn what an illness or accident had stolen from them, no matter how frightening a prospect this may be....
Yes, courage comes in so many guises and disguises. A quality so worthy of recognition and celebration, even if, especially if, this recognition comes from a bit of time spent on self-reflection.
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