600: Be Brave

A Thousand Things to Talk About
600: Be Brave

Is there anything you wish you had been braver about?

Full episode script

I tried – for a very long time – to find a good working definition of bravery to use for this episode. Instead what I found was one of the most complex interplays of cultural, social, emotional, psychological, and physical acts and reactions that I’ve encountered. I’ll let an extensive quote from Kugel, Hausman, Black, and Bongar’s article Psychology of Physical Bravery from July of 2017 explain some of the difficulty:


Documentation of this interest in bravery and heroism begins as early as 420 BCE with Socrates, Plato, and Aristotle and continues to the modern age with some prominent psychologists such as Rachman and Zimbardo. While we have many words, including “bravery,” “courage,” or “heroism,” to describe it, physical bravery remains a widely elusive phenomenon. This notion is illustrated in the differing operational definitions used by researchers within the field, along with variations among occurrences and experiences of heroism. For example, bravery is often described as “overcoming fears for no purpose other than the act itself” . Thus, crossing a rope bridge over a deep gorge is considered to be a brave behavior, but it does not have any additional components that are commonly inherent in courage and heroism. The definition of courage appears to be more elusive: Plato points out at the end of Laches, “We have not discovered what courage is”, and Miller, in his book The Mystery of Courage, writes, “No single theory, for none I have seen, nor none I can come up with, will work”. The difficulty in defining these concepts stems from the various intertwined layers that construct courageous and brave behavior. For example, Aristotle tied courage to the serving of an honorable and morally just cause. However, to the professional soldier, who chose a lifestyle that demands courage, it is irrelevant whether he fights for spreading freedom and democracy, to protect oil and resources, or for the fame, adventure, or money. Furthermore, culture and society have a dynamic and ever-changing influence on the definition of courageous behavior. Thus, an individual might be perceived as a coward and traitor in a certain time and place and as a courageous individual in another.


And all of this is only when talking about physical acts of bravery, and doesn’t begin to touch the idea of something non-physical.


The one conclusion that nearly every source I could find agrees on is that, no matter how large or small the act, bravery is really just the act of facing down something you fear. Which means that for each person and in each situation, bravery will look a little different, because our respective relationships with fear look a little different.


Or, as Nelson Mandela put it:

“I learned that courage was not the absence of fear, but the triumph over it. The brave man is not he who does not feel afraid, but he who conquers that fear.”



This week, we’ve got a short announcement — it’s harvest season! Plums are ripe and falling off the trees, our apples are at the perfect point to start cidering, with hazelnuts, walnuts and grapes following shortly thereafter, This is the time of year when the little minifarm that serves as A Thousand Things to Talk About HQ starts producing like no tomorrow, and we need to preserve the bounty for winter.


So we’ll be taking a break for a few weeks. If you’re around the Spokane, Washington area let us know and you’re welcome to come try your hand at making cider or plum jam. If not, we’ll be back on the air in a few weeks. Thank you so much for listening, and we look forward to tackling more questions together soon!

This script may vary from the actual episode transcript.