The Brave Cowards
I recently finished a book called “Origin” by author Dan Brown which stars his favorite hero the Symbologist Robert Langdon. Langdon is not your conventional hero who goes all out swinging right from the first page. He is far more realistic and like the majority of us someone who survives (shivering and cursing) being thrust into situations not of his making. He admits his lack of guts and never hesitates to use his brain instead of brawn. And it’s refreshing to read about a mainstream character from a bestselling author who refuses to be brave all the time. Most literary heroes would never admit to any doubts about their lack of guts. Offhand I can’t recall a single major character from any bestseller who admits to fear or acts a coward, without a redemption story. If at all a character is written like that- he becomes a side-kick or comedy relief like Neville Longbottom of the Harry Potter series who ends up becoming a brave heart (of course) by the end of book in a mandatory plot twist. All of which made me wonder whether bravery is synonymous with courage? And my conclusion was that both are as different as chalk and cheese and I will now explain why, in a long blog post guaranteed to bore you to tears.
In my younger days (damn…those feel like eons ago) I used to watch a cartoon series on Tv called “Courage the cowardly dog”. It was one of my favorites along with Oggy and the cockroaches, Heidi and Chotta Bhim. Anyway the premise of the show was that the dog Courage, contrary to his name, was a bit of a coward and afraid of pretty much everything under the sun. But as luck (bad luck) would have it, in every episode he would have to face one of his worst fears and battle it to save his beloved owner. The moral of the cartoon series was on how love (for others) makes us conquer our worst fears and act courageously. One of my takeaways from the ‘toon was that no matter how much of a coward you are, sometimes you just have to stand your ground and face your fears without retreating. The reason may be immaterial but when you have no option to run and hide you are called brave and only you know the true extent of your knees quaking under the table. Which brings me to the concept of bravery.
When people say so and so is brave what I assume is that the said person is fearless and has always been fearless and has a track record of being fearless. These must be exceptionally gifted people who have never seen failure I suppose. Or never ever entertain the thought of failure in their lives. Their confidence in themselves, courtesy their upbringing or maybe their socio-economic status or their lifestyle, must brook no option of their even losing or being humiliated in public or god forbid getting maimed in limb or life. But unfortunately for average people like you and I with normal middle class upbringing there is no such over-arching self confidence in our success rates. We are the ones who have been trained to walk on pavements, look both ways on the road before crossing even if it’s a zebra crossing with red lights on etc. We are psychologically trained to admit that shit happens in our lives despite our best precautions. For us it’s never a question of being brave all the time – there is no absence of fear from our lives where it lurks just under the surface. It’s merely a fact of conquering fear enough to step out and do what is necessary despite admitting that our best may not be enough and the probability is great that we are going to fail. And that’s why I rate courageous people better than brave people. It’s easier to accomplish things in the absence of fear, but conquering fear? Ha… that takes a lot of courage.
To end this post, I would like to paraphrase a quote from Tolkien “the bravest step he took was the first one from his doorstep”. Indeed, for a hobbit the fear of leaving the safety of his snug house must have looked more daunting than facing those orcs or beasts or even the might of mordor. And likewise every step we take out of our houses in the morning is a badge of courage for all of us naturally cowardly people. Would you agree?