What does bravery mean to you? And courage? To me, bravery is saying yes, when you probably should’ve said no. Bravery is living like you’re invincible. It’s seeing the risk and taking it anyways, because it makes you better. Bravery is looking fear in its quivering face and saying, “You don’t scare me.” Courage, though, is the absence of fear. I think we can be brave without being courageous. Bravery is facing your fears, and courage is telling them they don’t exist.
Right now, I think I’m brave. But I remember a time when I was courageous, I aspire to be courageous again.
We all have a lot of bogus ideas about bravery and strength. When I think “strong” I think stoic, heavy lifting, emotionless, and powerful. I don’t think that definition is entirely correct. Sure, a physically strong person might be able to bench press twice their weight, but if there’s anything I’ve learned from rock climbing, it’s that there’s more than one kind of “strength” in the body. You might be able to lift twice your weight, but can you pull yourself two hundred feet up a sheer cliff by your fingers and toes? Maybe not. Does that mean you’re not strong? Certainly not. You’ve simply chosen to maintain a different set of strengths.
I grew up thinking bravery was being quiet when you were scared. Strength was hiding your emotions, and crying was the ultimate sign of weakness. You were strong if people obeyed you. You were strong if you were bossy. Strength was measured in power and control, of others and of yourself. Strength was being someone who others were afraid of.
Understandably, I didn’t see myself as strong for most of my life. What with all my tears, and feelings. I was the runt of the litter, people weren’t afraid of me, I was afraid of them. I didn’t, and still don’t, like loud noises or bright lights. I was born with a soft voice, and it physically pains me to raise it. I was skin and bones, a walking, giggling skeleton. I was fragile and emotional. I felt the weight of the world and I carried the pain of those dear to me. I just wanted people to stop hurting, I wanted to help, but I didn’t know how, so I cried. It was no easy task navigating this big world by myself. I wasn’t brave, and I certainly wasn’t strong.
It was only later that I found out that strength isn’t so callous at all.
It’s taken me years to redefine, and I couldn’t tell you that I’m satisfied with my interpretation just yet. But here’s what I have so far: Unsurprisingly, we find our strength when we uncover our identity. Our identity that is multi-faceted and complex, that is resilient and concrete. Our identity that is a respite in this ever changing world, we are wholly ourselves.
In my limited experiences I’ve found that definitions are not concrete. They are not stagnant pieces of information, rigidly adhering to indisputable, objective facts. No, definitions are much more fluid than all that. Just take language for example. How words can have different meanings based on their surroundings, their time period, or their reader. There’s a synonym for nearly everything. We express ourselves differently using the same words in slightly different combinations containing worlds of meaning. I’ve chosen to define words by actions.
Strength is not the absence of emotions or a life devoid of feelings. It’s not tearing others down in order to elevate yourself. Dictators are not strong; selfish, mislead, dangerous- perhaps, but strong, no. Strength is not wealth of power, or skilled manipulation.
A strong person is a brave person is a courageous person in the making. Strength is mourning your losses, and crying with everything you have in you, with heaving, blubbery sobs and tiny streaking tears. It’s being aware of your emotions and handling them accordingly. It’s operating from a powerful place, not elevated above others, but in control of your own self. Strength is hearing something hurtful and responding in love. It’s resisting temptations and deciding to put others before yourself. Strength is knowing your worth and operating from a place of wholeness. It’s saying yes to the character instilled in you, it’s agreeing that you are valuable and irreplaceable. Strength is knowing your importance apart from how others describe you. Independence is strength, and accepting community is strength. Living with and for other people is strength. Strength is loving imperfectly and knowing when to apologize. Strength is in every part of our being, it’s carrying on even when the fear is crippling.
Strength is a choice, it’s a learned trait. We are born weak, and helpless. In the same way we have to train our muscles, and maintain our bodily strength through constant movement and use, we have a lifetime of building on our strengths. We are capable. We are able. We are skilled. You wouldn’t work out once and expect washboard abs. Strength is a building exercise, it’s a consistent discipline. An occupation of operation, if you will. Strength training is difficult. It’s an undertaking where we have to actively die to self, and practice purpose. It’s not a passive movement, it’s not a mindless activity. Quite the opposite it’s reigning in our minds, taking our thoughts captive and choosing carefully what we release into the atmosphere. It’s responding, as opposed to reacting. The age old concept of thinking, before you speak.