Bravery Is Stupid (and Clearly Bad for You)

I’m not brave. People have been using that word a lot about me lately, but I proudly reject it. Bravery is about overcoming fear and acting in spite of still being afraid. Let’s be honest: being brave is the equivalent of running into a fire knowing you are going to get burned. There is good reason to avoid that fire and not to act brave for the sake of being brave. Unless there is a helpless child in danger or some noble cause like that. Then, by all means, be brave and suffer the pain to save an innocent life. But is that really being brave, or just doing the right thing when called upon? Because at times like that, if you pause to be afraid and then muster your bravery, you are kind of wasting precious time. Heroes don’t stop to think, they charge ahead in their solutions. They are not brave, they are just able to rise to the occasion. And I am not brave, I’m just not afraid.

And I am resigned to moving forward, not stagnating.

To be brave, there must be trepidation. And while bravery may help those who are fearful muster their own strength, they would be better served by instead dealing with the root cause of their fear. There is, I have heard, nothing to fear but fear itself. If this is true, or even mostly true (I fear getting smashed into by a texting teenage girl in an SUV), it makes sense to investigate the psychology of fear rather than dwell on what we are afraid of.

Fear is an instinct that functions to keep us alive — by listening to that fear, and acting on whatever will remove that fear. Fear is about being aware of danger. Or at least that is what fear should be about. Anxiety is the condition we experience when living with fear, and anxiety is in itself a source of physical and emotional harm. But anxiety does not serve the fight or flight functionality of the fear instinct; it is a largely fabricated state that counters rationality (outside of war zones and situations of systemic abuse, where the anxiety is forced upon the person experiencing it). In “normal” existence, there is no need, nor excuse, for continued anxiety.

When there are events or experiences beyond our control, we have the choice to be fearful and hide (leading to anxiety) or to embrace or accept that which must be dealt with and move forward. If an earthquake strikes, it hardly makes sense to freeze with fear and do nothing because another quake might strike. And it is hardly bravery that is responsible for turning off the gas main or hauling out the store of water and food put aside for such an event; these are common sense reactions. It might be “brave” to walk back into a teetering house to collect that special trinket you forgot to grab on the run outside during the shakes, but that is also stupid, and if the house happens not to collapse on you in the process it wasn’t because of the brave deed, it was just dumb luck.

So don’t call me brave. I am just doing what I need to do, because I believe in living.

Being brave is spending the night huddled under a blanket in a house you truly believe is haunted (and dangerous) rather than just leaving. Being smart is spending the night figuring out which pipes are making the noises and whether the water heater needs to be fixed. As we get older, we all hope that we will make more smart choices. Figuring out why things are the way they are and fixing what can be fixed is always a solid plan.

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