From my inbox:
Help. I can't figure this out.....
Imagine a bunch of adults who adore their kids and grandkids are sitting in a boat while two 9-year-old cousins (boy and girl -- 18 days apart in age) are on a cliff, contemplating jumping into the lake below. All the voices from the boat are yelling to the cousins, "You are so brave! Be brave! You can do this! Be brave!" They yell this again and again and over and over and louder and louder until the kids jump.
This does not sound like the same "brave" that I couple with "kind" and run my house by (thanks to you:). So what the hell is it???? What is this thing we keep calling "brave" and what happens when you climb back down the cliff and swim to the boat??
Brave is not succumbing to scary crap, is it? Isn't it also brave to simply consider the leap? WHAT IS BRAVE?
Seeking the "G spin" to make it all make sense.
I recently took my daughters to one of those mall pagodas to get their ears pierced. When it was our turn, my younger daughter took a deep breath, climbed into the chair, closed her eyes and said, "OK! I'm ready!"
The piercer smiled and laughed and several onlookers said, "Look at her! So brave! That little one is so brave!" When her little sister hopped off the chair, my older daughter hung back, eyes wide, arm around my leg. Everyone looked at her expectantly and the piercer waved her over, but she stood still and said in a small voice, "I changed my mind. I'm not ready today."
Before I could speak, the well-meaning piercer said, "Sure you are, sweetie! Be brave! Your little sister did it! It doesn't hurt at all!" Tish's grasp on my leg tightened and I flashed hot red inside. I knelt down to Tish and said, "Wow. That is SO BRAVE, honey. Even though all these people are here and want you to do this to your ears -- you listened to yourself instead of to them. I am so proud of you. Trusting yourself to make decisions about your own body is so brave. You are BRAVE, Tish, in your way. Just like Amma is brave in her way. Let's go. You'll know when you're ready. I trust you to know."
We have to teach our children (and ourselves) that caution is often a sign of courage. That often NO is as brave an answer as YES. Because the little girl who says no in the face of pressure to pierce her ears or jump off a cliff might become a bigger girl who says no in the face of pressure to bong a beer or bully a peer. Whether her answer is YES OR NO -- give me a little girl who goes against the grain, who pleases her own internal voice before pleasing others. Give me that girl so I can call her BRAVE loudly and proudly in front of the whole world. Give me a girl who has the wisdom to listen to her OWN voice and the courage to SPEAK IT OUT LOUD. Even if it disappoints others. Especially then.
As my little brave Tish said to me the other day in the car, "Mom, how come everyone says YOLO to try to get people to do dangerous stuff? How 'bout be SAFE because YOLO???? You Only Live Once, so try not to get yourself dead so soon." (Tao Of Tentative Tish right there, yes ma'am. BRAVE.)
I'm with you, Courtney. If we are going to tell our kids to be brave, we must also tell them what brave means. Over time I have come to believe that brave does not mean what we think it does. It does not mean "being afraid and doing it anyway." Nope. Brave means listening to the still small voice inside and DOING AS IT SAYS. Regardless of what the rest of the world is saying. Brave implies WISDOM. Brave people are not simply those who JUMP every time. They do not necessarily "do it anyway." Brave people block out all the yelling voices and listen to the deepest voice inside the quietest, stillest place in their heart. If that voice says JUMP, they jump. And if that voice says TURN AROUND -- they turn around, and they hold their head high. Often the one who turns around shows GREAT BRAVERY, because she has been true to herself even in the face of pressure to ignore her still, small voice and perform for the crowd.
Brave is VERY SPECIFIC and EXTREMELY personal. It can't be judged by people on the outside. Just can't. Sometimes brave means letting everyone else think you're a coward. Sometimes brave is letting everyone else down but yourself. Amma's brave is often: loud and GO FOR IT and Tish's brave is often: quiet and wait for it. They are both BRAVE GIRLS. Because each is true to herself.
Brave people only answer to ONE voice and that is the voice that arises within. Brave people are just people who trust themselves more than they trust the crowd.
Brave is: To Thine Own Self Be True. And Brave parents say: I trust you, little one -- to Be Still and Know. I'll back you up.