The biggest compliment I have ever received was given by an 11 year old girl who has absolutely no idea of the extent to which she touched me. This young lady was a client I worked with for quite some time. At the time of the compliment, we were addressing some bullying that was happening at school. The bullying was terrible, and she had every right to be intimidated and worried, so she, understandably, did NOT like working on being assertive. However, she begrudgingly agreed to work with me to make a video of role-plays. She played the role of herself and I, the bully. In the first video, we filmed how she was currently responding. In the second video, we filmed an assertive response I had coached her through that we had practiced.
When we watched our video at the end of the session and she saw the transformation and assertiveness in herself, she threw her arms around my waist and exclaimed, "You have the biggest, best ninja heart."
It has been over 6 months since this happened, and I STILL get tears in my eyes writing this.
I started this year with an intention. Not a resolution -- an intention -- to be brave. I didn't take much time to think about it, or operationally define it, or set bravery goals or anything of the sort. Rather, I was listening to my music, flipping through the songs in my iTunes, and was struck by a theme running through the songs I chose. First there was "Brave" by Jamie O'Neal. And then there was "Brave" by Sara Bareilles. And then there was "Walk You Home" by Karmina with the chorus "Even the brave they depend on someone/the moon only shines with the help of the sun..." Next was "I Choose" by India Arie, which doesn't have the word "brave" in it necessarily, but it relates...and this went on, and on, and on. I only need the universe to hit me over the head a few times before I say "oh yeah! I get it!" and take the hint.
As the year progresses, I am starting to think more about what this actually means, and how I can live that into reality. I seldom feel brave. I am frequently more anxious than I care to admit -- fearful, even, on occasion. There were days this week -- days which are now blessedly few and far between -- when I just wanted to stay in bed with the covers over my head. I didn't, but I wanted to, and the concept of being brave in the face of multiple decisions I had to make this week seemed far, far out of my reach.
Bravery is different than strong. I have a bad history with the word strong, and I hate it. I spent too much time being strong and being taught that "strong" meant not having/showing feelings. I was taught that, if you're strong, nothing bothers you -- which was never something I was able to achieve. I was led to believe, before I was old enough to question it or make opinions of my own, that "strong" was this elusive state I could never quite reach, and I was ashamed that I could not be "strong." Strong meant the absence of fear. It meant being able to hold it together when the world is crumbling. Rocks are strong, and I was supposed to be a rock, strongly holding myself and others together. (Conversely, I have a client who believes that strength is equivalent to weight - and the more the better. She routinely tells me proudly, "guess how strong I am now? 96. I keep getting stronger and stronger. Last time I was only 94. Look," she says, showing me her muscles. "Can you see that I'm 96 now?").
I don't really care at this point about being strong. Bravery, however, is different. Bravery is not about the absence of fear, or the absence of emotions. Bravery is about feeling the fear, or the sorrow, or the heartache or loss, and making the choice to do the thing that is right. It is the choice to do the thing that needs to be done.
Notice my wording here (because I just worked really hard on it, dammit). Bravery is feeling it all and making the choice to do what is right. To do the thing that needs to be done. Not the strong thing. Not the knight in shining armor "brave" thing as we typically think about "bravery." Not the courageous thing, or the hard thing, or the difficult thing, or even the thing that requires taking the road less traveled by. It's not the choice to do what should be done. Being brave is the choice to do what needs to be done.
In other words, being brave is living life showing your ninja heart.
It is brave to make the choice to do what it is you are scared to do, AND it is brave to make the choice to respect yourself and your limits enough to make the other choice.
It is brave to push yourself to do the things that are hard, AND it is brave to love yourself enough to take the easier road without shame or regret.
It is brave to fight your internal demons, AND it is brave to choose to take a break from that battle to gather the strength you need.
It is brave to talk when you need to, and it is also brave to be silent.
There is bravery in standing up and fighting/advocating/marching, and there is so much bravery in putting one foot in front of the other and simply continuing to walk.
Bravery is the ability to make the choice that is right without shame or guilt. By making a conscious choice, you are living bravery into action. By doing that which is right, you are brave. You are showing the world your biggest, best ninja heart.
Bravery is not the act of doing something in spite of fear, but perhaps it is the act of doing something alongside the fear. Most ideas of bravery will tell you to just to "do it anyway." Don't let the fear get you down, they say. Show it who's boss!
I say: don't try to outrun your fear. Don't do something with the intention of ridding yourself of the fear. Instead, acknowledge the fear, the pain, the indecision, the loss, the heartache, and weigh the choices. Once you have decided on what is right, wrap your arm around Fear's shoulders and take her with you. If you are truly doing what is right, she will come along regardless. Might as well invite her along for the ride.
The opposite of bravery is not fear. It is not cowardice or timidity. I'm not sure what it is. Maybe it doesn't have an opposite. But bravery and fear are not mutually exclusive. In fact, my ninja heart tells me that they often go hand-in-hand.
This is a definition I can live with. This definition lets me know that I don't need to showcase superhuman feats of strength to be brave. I don't need to choose to do the thing that will hurt the worst, just to prove I can do it. That is the definition I lived with for a long time, and if I did anything less than that, I was disappointed in myself and I was ashamed. Bravery is not always the loudest thing you can do...it is only that which is right, which is good, which is ninja heart.
So may it be.