“Boys are braver than girls,” my daughter announced one afternoon.
I don’t remember what I was doing, but I know my head snapped up, ready for a fight! Now, I am not a hard-core feminist but I will fight for my gender when necessary, especially when it comes to my daughter.
“Why do you say that?” I asked, coolly, as if I was only slightly interested. (Sometimes I have to reign in my reactions, so I don’t scare her away.)
“They just like to climb high and jump off things and touch bugs and stuff like that,” she said.
“And that makes them braver?” I asked. Again, I was super-cool about it.
“Well, I’m too afraid to do those things and they aren’t!”
I could see her logic, because it seems to me it’s the logic that most people use when describing brave: If I’m too afraid of something, and you do it, then you must be braver than me.
But I’m here to say FALSE.
Being brave is highly subjective. What is brave for one person might not be brave for another! The hard part about being brave is facing our fears. There is no brave without some kind of fear.
Brave is speaking up when you are terrified to speak in public.
Brave is telling your story even when you feel embarrassed by it.
Brave is continuing to love someone who has hurt you in the past and you are worried it will happen again.
Brave is breaking up with someone who is wrong for you, even though you’re afraid of being alone.
Brave is opening your home to strangers, even though you fear the unknown.
I don’t want to take away from people who speak in public and are not terrified, who tell their story and are not embarrassed, who love someone else but have never been hurt by them, who break up with the wrong person for them but don’t fear loneliness, who are hospitable to strangers but are not worried about what they will bring. Those are all good things. They just are not brave.
Brave does not come easy, so let’s not water down its meaning by crediting it to those people who do not have the accompanying fear.
So as I looked at my daughter that afternoon, I wanted to explain all this to her and somehow show her that sometimes her mom can even be brave! But there’s a problem: in order to reveal the brave, I also have to reveal the fear and insecurity behind the brave. And that’s the hard part. How do I show my daughter that I am afraid but I am doing it anyway, without also passing on that fear to her?
As I think about the brave people that I know and want to emulate, I am struck by the fact that the people who are bravest are also the people who have been the most fearful and have had to overcome it.
But I want to be careful about passing on my fears to my daughter. So as I endeavor to exhibit bravery to her, I want to only show her those fears that I have already faced. (And then someday I can admit that many of my fears, I never could face, so maybe I’m really not that brave at all.)
So we just take each moment as it comes, each little act of bravery. And take advantage of these times when we can just talk - and I can just listen without going on a diatribe.
“Those boys aren’t braver,” I explained. “They just aren’t afraid of the same things you are! You can’t be brave if you’re not a little afraid first.”
And we left it at that. For now.