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Being Brave in a Fearful World

My five-year-old son is obsessed with superheroes. When he was three, he was known around town as “Superboy” because he refused to go anywhere without his cape. He has since broadened his horizons, pretending to be everything from Iron Man to a secret agent to a police officer, depending on his favorite hero of the day. As you might imagine, he and I talk about bravery quite a bit.

He said one day, “Dad, if I had superpowers, I could be brave.”

“What do you mean?” I asked. “You don’t need powers to be brave. You do brave things all the time!”

To which he sensibly replied, “Yes. But without powers, I would get a lot more hurt doing brave things.”

Getting Hurt and Being Brave Anyway

In those moments when my son has rendered me speechless, I find myself searching for answers to the bigger question. For a five-year-old boy, courage is simple. But I want that little boy to grow into a man who can face the complexities of life with that same moral clarity.

I want him to have the strength to face down peer pressure. I want him to have the confidence to be true to himself. I want him to have the courage to admit when he is wrong, to tell the truth, and to not hide his emotions. I want him to be able to laugh, to love, to cry without fear of what others will think or say.

But most of all, I want him to know that he has the power to choose to do the right thing, even when he’s afraid of the consequences of that choice. Even when he could get hurt or embarrassed or brokenhearted.

But What Is the “Right Thing”?

For me, that’s what being brave comes down to: choosing to do the right thing, even when you feel afraid of what might happen. Fear and discomfort are the cause of many a bad decision. They lead us to do the easy thing, the convenient thing, the self-serving thing.

Recognizing a decision made out of fear or discomfort can be difficult enough. The really hard part is figuring out the right thing.

Recognizing the “right thing” requires wisdom to understand the outcome of a decision before it’s made. It requires compassion to see beyond the self. And it requires humility to realize that things might still go wrong, despite the best of intentions.

What’s the Difference Between Foolish and Brave?

Most of all, recognizing the right thing requires a lot of careful consideration. If one thing is clear, it’s that courage is not the opposite of fear. Being brave is not simply acting in opposition to fear or in reaction to anxiety. It is right to fear the flame, and it is foolish–not brave–to plunge one’s hand into it. But it is courageous to run into a burning building to save the life of another.

What’s the difference? Intentionality. Understanding. A clear-headed recognition of fact. And a feeling of peace with the outcome because what we sacrifice is nothing compared to what can be gained.

What makes something brave is not the act, but the purpose behind the act.

Bravery Can Change the World for the Better

This is what I wish for my children, for your children, for the world: That we can teach our young ones true bravery, sourced in wisdom, compassion, and humility. That the next generation might carry the gift of courage in their hearts when they face injustice, oppression, intolerance, and fear. That the world might be blessed with true superheroes.

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