I have spent much of my life not feeling brave. As a child, I would go to bed at night and wonder what I would be afraid of that night. My options were: 1. Dracula 2. The house catching on fire 3. Robbers. Every night I would consider the possibilities, select one and then… ready, set, worry. I was shy, afraid of strangers, afraid of heights, afraid of getting in trouble, afraid of fire, afraid of thunderstorms, afraid of snakes and afraid of not being liked.
But despite this, my life has been filled with brave moments. One of my favorite moments of bravery was in 3rd grade I walked up to 8-year-old Suzy during music class and said “I like the games you play, can we be friends?” She said “sure!” and 3rd grade got a whole lot more fun.
One of the hardest consequences of this is dealing with other people’s perceptions and judgments—and eagerness to push you to “get beyond your fear”. No one wants to look like a wimp. But I also realize that there are many ways to be brave and sometimes the most visible and traditional measurements of bravery are not always the most revealing.
- My daughter hates roller coasters, which was challenging when she went to amusement parks during camp, but she is not afraid to speak up for someone being picked on.
- My son was afraid of fire drills in elementary school, so much so that the principal would come and get him before each fire drill and bring him outside early. Yet, he was the only grandchild who was unafraid to hold his great-grandmother’s hand as she lay dying.
- My former colleague Jennifer was soft spoken and unassuming on the job – often getting overlooked for promotions. However, on 9/11, when we were a few blocks from the world trade center, she suggested we walk toward the Twin Towers to visit the children’s center on Broad Street to ensure the kids were safe.
- I was recently terrified when hiking with friends when we came to a part that I described as “cliff diving” and they described as “walking along a path”. But the next week I bravely got a routine colonoscopy in an effort to protect my health.
This makes me question, are there some people who are braver than others or are we all just brave in different ways? This is critical in understanding how we can help ourselves grow. Instead of thinking about all of our cowardly traits, why don’t we reflect on all the brave things we have done?
Also, how can we protect our vulnerable side? Is it ok to not go cliff diving (aka walking on a steep trail), or skip the amusement park, or avoid asking Suzy to be friends? I don’t know. I guess we all need to decide when fear holds us back and when it is ok to honor our fear. When does it make sense to push and when does it make sense to give ourselves a break. And when we are around someone who is afraid, I hope we can think about what message we are sending to him or her if we push him or her outside his or her comfort zone. I hope we can remember a time when we were afraid to better understand, empathize and show compassion to someone else who is scared.
I no longer imagine the dangers every night before I go to bed—instead I protect myself by not watching Stranger Things (which is hard to do because my family loves it) or Law and Order SVU before I go to bed and I read a nice novel instead. And when I do get scared, I remind myself that we all have our “mishigas” (yiddush for craziness). I know when I need to get over myself (schedule the colonoscopy) and when I can let go (skip the hike). Everyone has their fears and knowing when to accept and when to push can impact our quality of life.