Redifining Bravery: Doing the Right Thing Even in Face of Severest Woe

I was not a very brave kid growing up.  I knew that setting off a stink bomb in Mrs. Story’s classroom was the wrong thing to do.  Normally I wouldn’t do something like that, but I was threatened by the boys in my class that they would do my physical harm on the playground if I did not.  I showed no bravery.  I knew the right thing to do, but was scared into doing the wrong thing.  If I had told those boys that I would not set off the stink bomb, knowing full well that a week’s worth of pain was in my way, THAT would have been brave.

Bravery is reflected in always doing the right thing even in the face of fear.  Avoiding being beaten up on the schoolyard doesn’t make setting off the stink-bomb right, it just makes it cowardly.

As we grow up the stakes are raised.

You’re a guard in a bank while a robbery is in progress.  The robber has a gun on you and says he wants you to shoot the other guard with your gun.  Killing another person is wrong, but fear sets in and tells you self-preservation is a priority.  What would be the brave thing to do in this situation?  The answer is still the same.  Self-preservation doesn’t make killing another person right…despite what your fear tells you; the brave action is avoiding killing another human being even at the expense of your own life.

As we look globally the stakes are raised.

You live in a country that just suffered a terrorist attack.  Thousands of people died and there is evidence that they may try it again.  It is suggested that we order a preemptive strike to kill those that might kill our countrymen.  Killing is wrong, but fear sets in and tells you that self-preservation is a priority.  What would be the brave thing to do in this situation?  The answer is still the same.   Self-preservation doesn’t make killing another right…despite what your fear tells you; the brave action is avoiding killing another human being even at the expense of your own life.

It’s difficult to accept, but fear warps your ability to process complex information…and morality is very complex.  It’s hard to remember that killing people is wrong when you’re possibly facing your own morality.

I was reminded of the story of Saint Sebastian.  Catholics know him from the image of him tied to the stake and shot full of arrows.  I grew up on this image and assumed that this is how he died, martyred and made a hero in the Catholic Church.  Everyone always extols his bravery, but what’s so brave about being shot full of arrows?

Well, that’s only half the story.

Turns out he survived that ordeal and had to figure out what to do next.  He decided to track down his attempted killers and give them a piece of his mind.  He finds them, stares them in the eye, and offers forgiveness.  Then they beat the shit out of him and kill him.

That’s bravery.

He knew the right thing to do and wasn’t afraid of doing the right thing even though it might have meant his harm and death.

We all know the right thing to do is to not kill people, not wage war, and not denounce other people’s religions.  We do these things despite the fact we know that they are not the right thing to do out of fear.  We are afraid of having our lives and liberties taken away from us and so we engage in terrible, evil, and immoral acts.  We know better than that, and yet we can’t help ourselves.

Perhaps post-9/11 we to think of the bravery of Saint Sebastian who knew the right thing to do was to look terrorists in the eye and forgive them, and he wasn’t going to let his own very valid and legitimate fears stop him from doing the right thing.

Why can’t we be that brave?

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