Don’t Tell Me I’m Brave

“Since it is so likely that children will meet cruel enemies, let them at least have heard of brave knights and heroic courage.  Otherwise you are making their destiny not brighter but darker. “

 ~ C. S. Lewis ~

Trying to navigate the tricky line of when and how to reopen our country for life is complicated.  As articles  such as this point out, there are widely divergent views.  As articles rarely point out, it isn’t necessarily an either or situation.  Maybe we aren’t faced only with massive loss of life due to the pandemic or total economic and political meltdown due to the pandemic.  Maybe we’re faced with both.  Maybe we’re faced with neither, but rather a  milder mixture of the two.  Only time will tell, and we have to make the best choices we can.

But in the aforementioned article I find it fascinating that fear is now cited as a reason for not opening things back up again.  People are afraid, the logic would seem to go, and pushing them to return to work is going to cause them actual pain and damage.  We’ve all been traumatized, in other words.  Shell-shocked.   PTSD.  Whatever you want to call it.  As a nation we’ve been bludgeoned into a fragile psychological condition that now needs to be tended to softly and gently through continued government payouts rather than the cold, harsh reality of economic (particularly capitalistic) mechanisms.

That’s part of my fascination with what our media has done over the past two months.  You can argue about whether it was at the bequest of (some) of the political powers that be or whether it drove (some) of the political powers that be to their current stance on how to move forward.

First, yes.  People are afraid.  Some of them are terrified.  Nearly all of them are nervous.  If not for themselves than on behalf of others.  But that fear has been driven by our media and our politicians.  I’ll be lenient in granting that initially that fear might have been justified when we didn’t really know what was happening other than that a lot of people were dying in China and Italy.  But the fear went beyond that, and continues to go beyond that.  Fear is what should keep us locked in our houses.  Fear is what should keep us behind face masks.  Fear is what should keep us six feet apart from one another.  Fear is what should prompt  us to isolate not just for ourselves but out of fear we might somehow expose someone else to the virus who would be more vulnerable.

But this fear has been stoked steadily for two solid months.  Only recently have headlines in newspapers begun to mention other topics.  Still COVID-related stories are the majority of what we see and hear in the news.  Fear is natural, but people have been made afraid as well.  When fear is  all you push, don’t be surprised that people become fearful.  But also don’t then use  that fear to justify furthering policies that will only reinforce and strengthen the fear.

Now fear is not a glamorous thing.  It never has been in human history, but here’s part of the weirdness.  We’ve been made to feel as though our cowering in our houses is somehow brave.  We’re doing brave work as we lose our jobs and our businesses and fall back on unemployment and welfare.  That’s brave.

But it’s not.  It’s sad.  It might be necessary to some extent.  But  it’s not brave.  In part because very few people chose  to lose their job or their life’s work.  We were forced to stay home.  Ordered to.  Threatened with fines or imprisonment if we disobeyed.  We were shouted at through bullhorns and from helicopters over the beaches.  We were stigmatized by our fellow citizens.  This is not bravery.  At best it can be called obedience, but simply following orders is not necessarily brave in and of itself.

How can this be?

Because while we are told we are somehow brave and strong for ordering our food to go, we have also been inundated with real images and definitions of bravery.  Doctors and first responders get most of that glory.  They’re on the front lines, we’re told, fighting against the Coronavirus to keep us all safe.  That’s the definition of bravery.  It’s not an incorrect definition, either.  And that definition gets extended to a far lesser extent to those who work in essential industries.  Grocery store clerks and Amazon warehouse employees and all the other people who keep working so that those who have the ability to work at home or are already retired can order their food and groceries delivered and feel brave.  We’re told what bravery looks like, and it shows us that we ourselves have not been brave.

But we could have been.  And we could still be.

But it’s going to take the same mechanisms to change us that were used to create the fearful, nervous population we’ve become.

If the media and the politicians quit trying to paralyze us with fear and instead do what America has traditionally done – turn people loose to be heroic.  To go back to their jobs and bring their employees back.  Wear masks.  Avoid hugs and social distance.   So be it.  But be brave about it, not fearful.  America exists uniquely in history because it empowers people rather than disarms them.  You want to launch a business?  Go for it.  There’s no issues of pedigree or governmental control that should be able to stop you.  If you succeed, you might become wealthy and others might benefit from your drive and the product or service you offer.  If nobody wants what you’re offering, you’re free to change directions and try something else.

There’s the risk of failure to be sure, but the potential rewards of even moderate success are almost unheard of in massive portions of the rest of the world.  And people from all over the world still yearn and dream to  come to America to have this  freedom.  The freedom to be brave.  The freedom to succeed.  Even the freedom to fail.

Quit scaring people  into staying home while lauding the virtues of those who don’t.  Yes, they’re essential all right.  But in employing those terms you’ve just decimated the vast majority of your population with the reality they aren’t essential.  What they have to offer isn’t as good as or necessary as what doctors and nurses and policemen offer.

But this isn’t true.

Those people  are able to offer what they offer because other people offer things those people need.  Bookstores to order books to either grow in their knowledge and skill or relax and unwind and escape from the stressfulness of their career.  People who can cook great meals because doctors don’t have time to.   People who create spaces for people to relax and be together in like restaurants and coffee shops.   In myriad ways people contribute to the greater good, and to draw a  line with a magic marker that says these people are essential (whether they want to be or not) and the rest of you aren’t is just another way of instilling fear.  Destroying self-worth.  Turning people fearful.

Life is full of risks.  Full of dangers.  We have nowhere near the level of control we’d like to have, or even think we have and this is true of individuals as well as governments.  A great deal of the fear at play in our culture right now is driven by coming face-to-face with mortality, with the idea that we can die at any time and not necessarily be able to stop it.  We are mortal and frail.

That recognition leads to one of two courses.  One is fear.  Hiding and cowering and trying to protect ourselves from anything and anyone that could be dangerous.  Only to discover  that everything and everyone – even ourselves – can be dangerous, can’t be had or enjoyed without risk of harm physically or emotionally or psychologically.  Safety is an illusion because keeping yourself safe from one set of things opens you up to risk from another set of things.

The other course is to develop bravery.  Courage.  A willingness to go out and do what needs to be done, or to do what you’re able to do.  Knowing you might fail, but knowing you might also succeed.  Being rewarded for your willingness to take risks or innovate rather than simply do what other people tell you to do.

Fear is natural.  But fear can either be cultivated and nurtured or it can be weakened and sapped.  More than any previous challenges in or to our nation, this is the crossroads we stand at.  Do we remain fearful, waiting for others who are brave and strong to rescue us?  Or do we pick up our shovels or rakes or cable crimpers or bar  code scanners or measuring cups and set about rescuing ourselves and, in the process, rescuing one another as well?  Do we not only tell stories about knights facing great dangers, but encourage one another to put on their armor and mount their steeds and head out onto the field of battle for themselves?

Life isn’t fair, it isn’t easy, and it isn’t safe.  What equality, what comfort, and what protection we’ve been able to create is only because of generations of men and women just like us doing what needed to be done and doing it well.  Demonstrating not just bravery and courage but also how essential they are.  Why should we wait for someone else to tell us we’re needed or not needed?  Isn’t that how great swaths of governments around the world and throughout history have operated?  Telling people what they had to do or how they had to do it instead of letting the people figure it out for themselves?  Isn’t that why people want to come here, become Americans?  So they can make those decisions for themselves?  Be free to work hard and reap the benefits of that hard work?  Fail but learn from that failure and grow stronger and wiser for their next effort?

This is the home of the brave, according to our national anthem.  It’s time we remember that.  Claim it.  And start acting like it.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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