The Death of Bravery
No doubt, language is difficult to understand. Words change. Meanings evolve. My fear is that speech so deteriorates over time that the very concepts we value are devalued without notice. Bravery is such a concept in our time.
I have two sons. We hope to instill in them a sense of honor, valor, and, yes, bravery. But there is truly very little which requires bravery in our culture. Unless you listen to pop culture.
Over the last year, the term brave has been tossed around like opinions at a Baptist church business meeting. A beauty pageant contestant was brave when she – let’s be honest – stumbled through her opinion on stage. Celebrities were brave when fighting the “injustices” of people spying on them 24/7 because they are… well, because they are celebrities. Politicians who disagree, agree, speak up, step out, blah, blah, blah show immense bravery according to every news source.
Really? Has bravery been diluted this far?
The short answer is yes. On Sunday, I was running errands and flipping through radio stations when I ran across Ryan Seacrest doing his thing. He was waxing eloquently over the Taylor Swift-Kanye West-VMA Awards ceremony. Which, on a sidenote, can they really call that a ceremony? Anyway. Of course, Seacrest defended Taylor Swift and asked us all to move on from the situation. Yeah, like I was waiting for his permission.
But what struck me was how he defined bravery by how Taylor was able to come back out on stage later and perform after the Big Bad Wolf Kanye West interrupted her speech. Bravery had been reduced to the ability to perform music when there was one crazy person in the room. Kanye acted like a jerk. Taylor got an Moonman. And everybody (including me) has made the whole thing a punchline.
On the other hand, on Saturday, I stood and talked with Gary, one of the coaches for my son’s football team. Gary has been a firefighter for Nashville for 15 years. He drives a firetruck, wears a flame retardant suit, pulls hoses, and runs into burning buildings. The conversation reminded me of the story Ed Stetzer told of his grandfather in our book Compelled by Love. He did not know him well but knew he was a hero. The story he told all came down to a simple truth: Heroes are the people who run toward the thing from which all others seek an escape. Bravery is the willingness to stand up to danger and for justice when others step down.
But it is not an idea we should take lightly. Bravery can be shown by beauty pageant contestants, actors, and politicians. Whenever someone stands on his or her principles when others are floating with the rip-currents of polls and politics, we should recognize the bravery necessary. But isn’t it more than just standing on principles where there is immense freedom to do so?
I want my sons to understand a greater meaning to bravery. It is the soldier standing watch with a rifle and little else. It is the police officer who chooses to work in the tougher neighborhood because it is where he grew up and wants to make a difference. Bravery is in the soul of the missionary who travels to a closed country knowing they may very well lose their life. Bravery is standing tall when others cower against injustice.
Partly due to a free society and partly due to a slobbering lover affair with celebrity, bravery’s concept is on a slow decline. But it should not dissuade us from understanding the true caliber of it. Bravery still lives today. We see it in those who serve on foreign fields telling the Gospel where it is hard, rebuilding nations where they have crumbled, and defending the weak where they have no hope.
Bravery will never die until we surrender it to the darkness of ego. So, today, if you find yourself sitting down, stand back up.