I’ve been thinking about bravery and what it means. I’ve made some decisions recently that others have called courageous. I’d like to agree; it would be great to think that I am this fearless warrior woman, tough enough to survive anything. But that’s not what goes on inside for me.
With this in mind, it was interesting to read two thought-provoking posts on the matter this morning. My blogger friends have seemingly been dealing with similar questions. This post on thisstuffisgolden talks about bravery, and this one from noimnotok discusses cowardice.
I’m always interested in etymology, so here’s some definition on the history and use of the words.
- ‘Coward’ comes from Middle English, from the Old French ‘couard’. This originates in the Latin term for ‘tail’; ‘cauda’. Apparently the possible reference is that of a frightened animal with its tail between its legs, reflected in how we use the adjective ‘cowardly’, meaning excessively afraid of danger or pain.
- ‘Brave’ seems to go back to the 15th century and come from French. Based on the Latin word ‘barbarus’ you can see the connection in Italian and Spanish. ‘Bravo’, means ‘bold’ or ‘courageous, untamed, savage’, respectively in each language.
That might be a bit dull to some readers, but I took something from it. Somehow it is reassuring to see the comparison; the cowering animal or the untamed savage.
I am often afraid or anxious, but I’m not still that victim. I have flashbacks to the abuse, emotional flashbacks too, wherein I feel powerless and terrified. But even in those times, I don’t see myself as cowardly. Yes I am afraid, but not excessively so. The fear is proportional to the perceived danger. That’s a normal biological response. It isn’t cowardice to be afraid of something enormously threatening.
In my view, a coward is someone who lacks the strength, assurance and compassion it takes to engage with the world in a meaningful way. Cowards don’t make themselves vulnerable, they don’t take the risk of connecting openly with people and so they’re left in a self-absorbed bubble of only considering their own needs.
That definition is heavily influenced by my perception of my brother. He is a coward of the highest order. He got his sexual needs met by molesting me when I was only ten. When he was found out, he admitted very little. He went on to ignore the consequences and continue living in an utterly selfish way. He didn’t even tell his wife about his history before marrying her. She only found out last year when I broke the silence.
Now I am in a new position of power. I am shattering that silence even more and beginning to really tell my story. And when he hears this news, he is going to be so very scared. It’s hard not to relish that thought; the possibility of him being frightened and me sitting here, safely distant and very much in control. I don’t want to be vengeful. I don’t want to inflict pain or suffering. But I do want to be heard and to be taken seriously.
That’s where the bravery comes in. A few people have called me brave lately and I appreciate the compliment, but it’s not what I feel. ‘Bold’ is definitely a more fitting word. I feel as though I am boldly speaking my truth. While on the other hand, I’ve nothing to be courageous about. That’s because I hold a very dark fantasy as my protection against excessive danger or pain. Whether suicide is a cowardly act or not is a separate discussion (although I don’t believe it is).
What I really liked in reading those definitions was the Spanish translation. For some reason I love the notion of being untamed or savage. That sits with me much more comfortably than ‘brave’. Perhaps that’s because the force of the truth that boils inside me feels savage. It rages with this enormous energy that causes me to seek any sort of sedation I can find and inflict physical pain upon myself. And maybe I hold just a little bit of hope that when my truth has really been told, and heard in its entirety, I might be able to finally feel as though I have tamed it.