Thursday, April 16, 2009


A conversation with a person whose profession involves a daily display of great courage prompted this post. The point of conversation was “what makes a man or woman continue with an action or perform one in the full knowledge of its risks”? Bravery in most dictionaries would be defined “an act of fearlessness in the light of obvious danger”.

In the real sense bravery is a lot more complicated than this simple explanation. For one, bravery would not so much be fearlessness, than the “mastery of fear”, or a disciplined dealing with that fear. I doubt there would be any man or woman who would not feel fear in a dangerous situation. These are different types of situations. Those of immediate and sudden danger (like coming face to face with a large cobra) where it’s mostly a rush of adrenaline that prompts a reaction, than a thought-out counter attack. And those of prolonged danger like wars and battles. In the first case, one doesn’t necessarily have been of great courage to protect oneself. But in the second, the imminent danger grows upon you. It would require great resolution and strong spirit to continue, and jump into the line of fire knowing very well the risks of the undertaking.

Bravery has been described by the psycho analyst Schleps as “a disposition to voluntarily act, perhaps fearfully, in a dangerous circumstance, where there are considerable risks, in an effort to obtain some perceived good to oneself or a community, knowing that the desired good may not be realized.”
This definition brings forward many interesting angles:
A) The action must be voluntary, not coerced.
B) Bravery must involved judgment, a full understanding and acceptance of risk and consequences.
C) Bravery requires a presence of danger, risk, potential injury, loss. With out a sense of these, there is no bravery in the act.
D) Bravery is more a mastery of fear, than fearlessness.

I think it’s an insult to call a man “fearless”. Its equivalent to being called “brainless”. People distinguish between courageous and foolhardy action. Thoughtful courage is a quality practiced by very few, while “rashness and boldness”, fearlessness without forethought is very common. Let’s just say there is a thin line between courage and foolishness. It is prudence which provides the wisdom to assess a potential danger and worthy of bravery or not. Action towards a worthy end would be considered more courageous than simply a risky action. For example, trying to take on a gang of rogues all alone, without back-up, and getting your bones broken, over an ego-issue would be foolhardy. Better pick your battles and be called a coward. The sign of a truly brave soldier is to fight the right wars, and walk away from worthless squabbles.

Actually fear and bravery complete each other…there is none without the other. Fear has to be overcome to be brave. Conquering fear of bodily injury or physical pain is the most classic form of bravery, as bravery in a battlefield....…Bravery is usually considered doing what is right; therefore it takes a moral tone. We would be reluctant to consider a murderer a brave person, though he might have taken great risks to commit his crime.

Endurance, a form of moral bravery, entailing a patient suffering over a long period of time can be described as the primary form of bravery. Moral bravery compels a person to do what he/she thinks is right, despite fear of social economic consequences.

People in small units or strong social groups who witness each others' valorous action may feel inspired to act courageously themselves, as in an army platoon. The cohesive unit further supports bravery. Those engaged in dangerous tasks like bomb-disposal squads are usually a very well-adjusted group among themselves. So are sects and tribes, like the Masai-tribe of Africa, known for their brave warriors.

It’s interesting to note how the concept of true bravery changes with years. People come to conceptualize bravery differently as they mature. Very young children perceive physical acts as braver than psychological ones. Adolescents have a more complex psychology, and understand social risks regarding various acts of bravery. Younger people are more prone to commit adventurous or thrilling acts of bravery, while older people are more likely to engage in moral acts of bravery.

What do you feel bravery is to you?


  1. wonderful subject to write on. and very comprehensively dealt with. lagta hai thodi research bhi ki!

    i also keep thinking about the subject. why would you undertake an activity that obviously brings you no good. for example giving up a normal life to care for the elderly, or blowing yourself up for a cause, or even fighting at the front lines. it seems to point at the fundamental irrationality of humans. i dont see that as a bad thing. values or the so called "higher cause" which dont really have a final basis win over pragmatic considerations.

  2. I wonder if bravery is really mastery of fear. To me bravery is that spontaneous burst of courage when you are pushed to the wall. And to me a person with more common sense seem to be more courageous because he gets hold of the situation better. In times of danger there is a very thin line between life and death and common sense helps you sail through the danger. This though is my view :)

    Very very interesting post :)

  3. @ pankaj,
    true, its a wonderful, and deep topic to ponder on, and i still have lots to say on it, esp on a more personal note.i've tried to keep it short and precise, and touched on the main points, though.

    " for example, giving up normal life to care for the elderly, or blowing yourself up for a cause, or even fighting at the front lines."

    you touched on many aspects of courage in the above statement. caring for the elderly, giving people a fair chance, letting to of children...these are all displays of what can be called "psychological bravery", where a mental courage, clarity of thought and toughness has to be attained to achieve one's aim.
    blowing oneself up for a cause (moral bravery) and of course the most classic form of bravery- valour on a battlefield- ie, physical bravery. to accomplish which, one requires a certain mastery over fears, inhibitions and desires.
    Aah! what satisfaction these accomplishments give us, don't they? that's the reason for the human irrationality - the ultimate quest for satifaction in life.

  4. @ twisted elegance,
    you brought out very interesting points here.
    what happens when you are pinned against a wall? against a stronger party, either you freeze in fear, cower and let things happen to you. or you fight it despite the fear of injury or bodily harm, accepting the consequences and ready to face them.
    if the perpetrator is your equal you might not feel fear but rage, and attack back in a burst of adranaline. basically, either you're paralyzed in fear, or overcoming it in a busrt of courage.
    actually, people are very different in their reactions. like i mentioned in the post, there is a thin line between thoughtful courage and rashness. some people are better disposed towards tackling fear, like they're born with it or something. Those are who we call "she/he is a strong woman/man". meaning not physically strong, but better at handling dangerous and sressful situations because of a stronger psyche.

  5. hi rikko :)

    i could especially relate your post to a particular circumstance, although of course, you have dealt with almost every aspect of it very nicely. this circumstance is care for the elderly. my mother looked after my ailing and bedridden nani for many years, and it was extremely demanding. one wondered sometimes, wasnt it simply better to be selfish and devote ones energies to pursuing ones own ends. my mother spent almost 10 years looking after my nani. if this time was spent elsewhere, it might even have been more fulfilling from the point of view of her own life. but she kept to it, out of a bond of love, or a sense of "doing what is right". i think that is one of the aspects of courage, you do something, even though it flies in the face of pragmatism.

  6. courage has never been absence of fear,its all about overpowering it.changing lives has seen many faces and definitions of bravery.whether its an army man guarding our borders or an aviator soaring in the skies or a navy man venturing in uncharted waters.facets of war have changed.its no more swords and spears alone.we are in the world of triggers and buttons.but courage still entails .threat has always lurked in our domain.courage is also warranted when you choose to be different to make your way, not following the rut for the greater good.for sticking by your choice to choose the right man for your country .voting consciously .every moment shows a chance to prove fighting your demons .world is not going to give a guarranted moment of glory .it will be your call.all wars are not being fought on someone oppressed and exploited.its all bravery .bring a change in the world ,be sure there would be hurdles all will be surely pushed to wall .so moment of reckoning wont be far

  7. difficult to imagine what prompted you to write on this, but interesting thoughts here. we say many things without thinking a great deal such as, "i will jump from a building" or 'i can run faster than air'. but i believe all brave have something in common probably the mindset. its true that children feel physical acts as brave. i guess a human should fear for the worst. as a child boarding a bus was a fearful thought for me but not after i started doing must be the same case with soldiers as well watching their friends die in battlefield.

    very well written and interesting comments pouring in as well!!

  8. @ conflicting thoughts,
    a very very nice, profound and thought-provoking comment. thanks for reading the post...hope to see more of you. :)

    @ dolphin,
    where have you been, not seen and heard from in a while....:)
    i guess we all like to fancy ourselves as heroes. we like to imagine dangerous situations and how smartly we would deal with them. i know i do. but when i'm faced with it in reality, man i feel such gripping fear its not even funny.
    Recently a poor helper's kid died on the main road, very gruesomely, by a running bus. i still haven't had the guts to pass on that road, fearing i would see blood or something....and won't be able to deal with it....:(

  9. hi free-fallin',
    real busy schedule as its semester ending. so not reading blogs. it'll take a week more to get back to blogging!
    yeah well said. as a child i feared viewing from a three storeyed building but as time progressed, i got used to it.
    you must've been scared at the accident. i always think of helping people in accident times but most of the times i end up traveling in the bus and i can hardly help victims get to hospital.
    i always wanted to know this, do girls fear more than boys? or is it just a myth?
    you aren't writing often(neither am I!), blog frequently!!

  10. @ dolphin,
    somehow i can't manage long intervals of free time nowadays to compose a decent post, though there are soooo many topics floating in my head....:( hopefully i'll get down to it..:)

    hey, that can actually be a post in itself - do girls feel more fear than guys? i feel physically men have more endurance ( with exeptions, of course, we speak in generalities), but emotionally and many a times psychologically, woman are far more gutsy! women, being nurturers, fear the well-being of their world more, but then...

    U know, in today's world, scales of gauging things have changed so much. bravery today has more to do with our demons inside our heads. for example, fear of failure, it cripples you away from many deeds. i was brought up with the philosophy that there is nothing one cannot acheive, if he/she really strove for it. 'girl' or 'boy' these words never figured in conversation. i've grown up a mentally tough person, who enjoys challanges, but i have my downfalls, and so does everyone.

  11. you know what I found a blog with exactly your profile name...take a look

  12. yeah, i just went through my 'namesake' blog, and found it highly sissy in nature, with boyzone songs on the main page...must be a 12 year old.

  13. Intellectually stimulating post... its grt to read somethin of this kind from writer such as you... This is the best way of making of a grt post where you select a subject and then touch upon all the relevant aspects in a scientific manner.... such a free flowing and lucid content...

    If i have the liberty to narrow down the context of bravery and give u my version...

    Bravery to me is.... Taking ur decision without fearing about adverse consequences, respecting ur moral values and principles in all the circumstances, accepting the mistake in a true spirit, respect for opponent....

  14. @free-fallin'

    same problem with me as well, so many topics to write on but most of the posts stay in drafts! I hope to write more this summer. I guess we can make a post on it some day.
    I'm free from today! done with the semester.

  15. Bravery, for me, is the courage of walking away from what you have to create something new and fight for what you are trying to create...

  16. bravery, for me, is the courage to walk away from what you have to create something new and to fight for creating it...


lemme know what u think...share your thoughts on the post. Comments, critisicm, all is let it loose!


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