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Essays On Bravery

Some things are easy to understand and describe. A rose is a rose and a nose is a nose after all. However, other concepts are more difficult to interpret. Trust is one of these concepts. Understanding is another. Then again, bravery might be the most difficult word to comprehend. What makes one person brave and another not? How can the word bravery be defined?

Many people hold a common misconception about bravery. They believe that bravery is the same as being without fear. But being brave and being fearless are two different things. Many people skydive, do public speaking, ask questions, or enter relationships not because they are unafraid but because they are willing to overcome this fear. Or perhaps they are willing to go ahead despite the butterflies in their stomachs. To some, this is a foreign concept that prevents them from trying new things. However, others understand that “bravery is being terrified and doing it anyway,” as Laurell K Hamilton said. Being brave is ignoring fear for a moment and carrying on.

Bravery is also closely tied to selflessness. The book Divergent by Veronica Roth describes bravery as being the ultimate selfless action. The lead character states that “selflessness and bravery aren’t all that different.” Bravery is when you put yourself in danger to help or protect another. Mothers are brave when they give up sleep in order to comfort their child. Teachers are brave when they give up their own time to improve their teaching. Firemen are brave when they rush into a building to save someone trapped inside. Bravery is taking a risk to give something of yourself in order to make life easier for another.

Above all, bravery is instinctual. It is something that cannot really be thought through. Oftentimes, bravery is a spur-of-the-moment emotion that leaves little time to think your actions and consequences through. Brave people don’t hesitate. They can leap forward when others are still working their way through a problem. In order to be brave, one should not overthink situations. It’s an instinctive action that just happens. If you talk to someone that has just performed a brave act and ask them why they leapt into danger, their response is often “… I don’t know. I just did it.”

If there weren’t any brave people, the world would be a much different place. Perhaps it would be a sadder one, lacking in policemen and nurses. Bravery is essential for humans to work together and for the world to continue to change and grow.

''Be brave.'' To a service member, or to a cop or firefighter recruited and trained to face a threat to life, that means to act honorably despite natural fear. Such courage is measurable; varying degrees of medals are awarded, sometimes posthumously, to denote its extent beyond the call of duty.

But what does ''be brave'' mean to those never called, to the person with a paunch -- to the family-centered civilian or the duty-free single citizen? In homeland defense, what used to be called ''the home front'' is now the actual front, and we have to comport ourselves with a degree of courage on this new front line.

This is not about fearlessness; only the deranged or the wildly fanatic are fearless. The trick is to shake hands with our worry, get comfortable with our uneasiness, and manage our fear. How? We all have different ways -- religion, meditation, community voluntarism, exercise, meaningless dialogue, escapist novels, three-martini lunches -- but here are a couple that work for me, one negative, one positive:

First, get coldly angry, and not just at the designated villain in a TV studio with a rocky-cave backdrop. I am ticked off at the spooks and feds who failed spectacularly; at catch-up alarmists out to use this war to encroach on civil liberty and citizens' privacy; at Muslim-bashing bigots as well as Muslim clerics too timid to condemn suicide bombing; at Arab leaders who repay our aid and protection with permission to local zealots to fan hatred of America.

In this regard, fury can be focused on Rihab Taha, the sleazy scientist first named in this space in 1995 as ''Dr. Germs,'' boss of Saddam Hussein's biological warfare buildup. She's been hard at work on the side of deadly disease against the human race. (Read ''Germs,'' by my colleagues Judith Miller, Stephen Engelberg and William Broad; it's the most important book of the year.) Outrage served cold -- the kind that leads to action -- trumps fear.

Flip that to the positive side. A way to deal with the present jitters is to recognize that great good can grow out of combat with evil.

To build a defense against terrorism's germ arsenal, we are belatedly producing vaccines and awakening to public health needs. Beyond that, government and private foundations are increasing support of basic research into ways to expand the capability of the body's innate immune system without triggering an autoimmune response.

A couple of years ago, I asked an official of the Centers for Disease Control when we might achieve the dream of a ''universal vaccine'' against all pathogens. He waved it off with ''in 50 years, maybe.'' When he noticed I was a journalist, he cut it to 25 years. Now, under pressure, scientists are seeking ''multivalent vaccines'' against groups of diseases, which this generation may see.

Out of crisis comes unexpected bravery. And out of today's threat of biowar may come tomorrow's conquest of infectious disease.

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