DSC_0679When I was planning my back packing trip recently, there were various comments made, mainly around jealousy / envy / curiosity. I was happy to talk about it with these concerned friends, less enamoured with arguing the merits of independent travel with judgmental, dare I say snobbish, strangers or acquaintances.

The one phrase I heard quite a lot which did surprise me was

“Aren’t you brave!”

Now don’t get me wrong, for those who have followed my blog you’ll know I am ‘brave’ enough to tackle my demons head on, sometimes. I have walked across various bridges, some higher or more challenging than others. I have held snakes, crocodiles and various beasties, stuck my hand in a bees nest. Brave? Foolish?

A few years ago I decided to challenge my self to at least three major things a year, which would hopefully push my boundaries, be that seeing a movie alone (OK still not done that one!) to walking over big bridges. I started with Humber Bridge and have done quite a few since. Now my question is, is this bravery?

How do you define bravery?

I am currently doing a fair bit of hospital visiting, don’t worry nothing to panic about. I am always amazed by the resilience and hardiness of the human race however are people who face illness brave by definition? If you fight off a disease such as cancer does that automatically qualify you to receive a bravery award? I am certainly not casting aspersions as anyone who has any illness, and I truly do not wish to upset of offend in this blog I’m just curious how we define bravery in our society.

When an off duty soldier was fatally wounded in an attack on the streets of London, I was over awed by the very apparent bravery of a lady who walked calmly up to the killer and talked to him. What if everyone had such bravery, audacity, naivety or sheer bloodymindedness the world would surely be a better place.

If you are given a terminal diagnosis and choose to fight against it with every fibre of your being, as did a woman I met recently, is that bravery? Is that ‘bravery’ relinquished if that individual has such strong personal faith in her beliefs that she accepts her fate. I would argue not, surely that is joy, enthusiasm, a stubborn determination to survive for whatever reason they choose be it family, children, love of life or no doubt numerous others. It is a refusal to accept that life is over at the behest of a doctor, however is the person who fights it with every drug and assistance available any more brave than the person who says OK, I accept, that’s me done, thanks? My Dad died of leukaemia and at the end had just had enough, he was in pain and didn’t want to suffer anymore. He asked to go, he accepted his fate without a faith to fall back on to reassure him of his next life awaiting. I thought that was an admirable decision and one which inspires me daily, however was it brave or just realism, he would definitely not have considered it bravery. People wanted to fill him full of drugs, they wanted him to fight longer and harder, one person even said ‘he should fight to be with us’ now is that his weakness or theirs? He knew he was dying, as he said old age comes to us all, he was happy to accept that. I am hoping I will find the bravery to accept my fate when it arrives, not to give in, not to waste the final moments how long they may be by fighting an impossible fight instead I’d like to enjoy what time I am given.

If someone with true ‘blind’ faith is given bad news, are they brave if they don’t fall apart, or is their faith something which bars that definition? If you have an educated questioning attitude to faith, you may falter, if you then re-find your faith and cope with the news due to that re-found or maybe newly found faith, is that bravery? No, surely that is just faith?

On bravery awards you see physical acts of people who have taken that extra step to protect others, put themselves in the way of harm. If it is their job and they’ve been trained to do so, are they brave, or just doing their job? Some may have the arrogance and good fortune to survive a foolhardy act does that make them brave and those who don’t succeed less brave?

I can say with hand on heart, travelling with a back pack or in a camper is not bravery, unless in extreme circumstance. I don’t believe you can choose to be brave. I joke about being brave when I push my boundaries, but that is my own arrogance, as it’s not brave, it’s just not cowardice. I challenge myself to try to live life to the full. I never want to get to the end and think ‘if only’

To me bravery is an act of true altruism and in most cases taking a step beyond your training.

Amputees in warzones, children who are ill, police who do their jobs, are they brave or are they ‘merely’ taking every opportunity life gives them to achieve their dreams, and not be beaten by adversity placed in their path.

People are amazing, faithful, achieving, challenging, fighting, generous, hard-working, stubborn, awe-inspiring and numerous other adjectives, however do we diminish the very definition of ‘brave’ by using too often. Not everyone wants to be labelled, not everyone who is a wheel chair user wants to be described as ‘disabled’, not everyone who has true faith in their god/s doesn’t want to be called religious, I would argue that not everyone who commits an act of salvation or assistance should receive the ‘bravery’ label.

Humans have developed into a race which likes labels, these labels define us. They state our colour or nationality defined by accidental place of birth or supposed ability or possible lack of it. Let’s not add another label, let’s just accept people are different, some act with bravery in some situations, we all do, we are human, that’s what we do when we need to.

Don’t we?

I hope this has made you think just a little about labels we use, what is the one you choose not to use, do you agree with my thoughts around bravery?

I’d love to prompt a discussion, please feel free to comment.


I’m a writer and creativity coach focused on sharing my love of travel, writing and books. I motivate, educate and widen horizons by blogging about my world of travel and words, writing books and encouraging others to find their voice.

3 thoughts on “HOW DO YOU DEFINE BRAVERY?”

  1. Greetings 🙂

    You raise a good point and I think there are many words that are bandied around these days that are used too often. Housey type programmes where everything they see has an “spectacular” view from the back windows when it’s just a couple of trees and a field!

    Bravery is probably one of those words that people have diluted a little to strengthen their argument. I admire you for your backpacking. Not sure whether I would want to do that, but I take your point that it is not the right word to use in comparison to a member of the public who runs into a burning building to save lives.

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