The Illusion of Bravery
They say pain is subjective, which may be more clearly stated as: There is no way to know the intensity of the emotion or sensation someone else is experiencing. We act as if some are, by their will and effort, more courageous than others. Yet, we hold simultaneously that bravery doesn’t exist in the absence of fear. If bravery is not measured by an observable act, but by the ability to push through an unobservable emotion, how can we measure one’s bravery?
Let us enlist for a thought experiment two subjects: One is shaky, nervous, and readily frightened, and the other is stolid, confident, and unbothered. If we were to take the sensations and emotional pressures in the mind of the former and transfer them to the mind of the latter, would we find that the latter has the ability to simply dissipate that cloud of anxiety and worry? Fear and anxiety attack us in a way we cannot defend against.
It seems that some face, from no fault of their own, a more intense strain of emotional influence within their mind than others. We speak of bravery as if any two people experience the same emotional response to a given event, so long as the particulars of that event are identical. I contend that the so-called courageous would buckle before the fear experienced by those called cowardly in just the same way, if the same emotional forces were acting on them.
A weight of 100 lbs is the same to everyone; those who can carry it are stronger than those who cannot. Our emotions, however, are intangible and immeasurable. It is best not to assume that the force of one person’s fear is equal to the force of the fear that affects those around them. Yet, this mass misunderstanding has made it so that some arrogant person can boast of their bravery because they have endured a droplet of fear, and can mock another who, with shaking legs and staggered breaths, has withstood a tidal wave.
Martin Vidal is the author of The Ambition Handbook: A Guide for Ambitious Persons