Bravery Has An Underbelly


“When I am willing to look honestly at my heart and all that it holds–the hopes and dreams and opinions and experiences and fears–then that will be my first step toward true bravery.”

The image is burned into our knowing: the brave wield swords and slay dragons, they swoop into fiery buildings, they gallop into dark nights and stand stoically in the face of fear. Brave people do hard things.

I, however, have always felt more at home crouched small in the tight and cramped underbelly of someone else’s shell of bravery.  The proper home for my thinner blood and skin has consistently been hidden below the vast casing of another’s courage. Valiant and stouthearted I am not.

And then I hear stories of real women around the globe whose very waking is an act of bravery; women whose lives are daily marked by decisions between lesser evils and unrequited hope. I am schooled in the prevalence of human trafficking and the pains of hunger and I am confronted with my ready wealth and comfort.

It is then that I feel the weight of my brave costume most acutely and the truth of my position is revealed.

I am someone who hides from danger and risk and mean people and thunderstorms, all the while, expecting others to shield me from it all.

I make it through hard things by soliciting surrogate strength.

In short, I am fearful.

But if I really listen to the stories of other women who personify bravery, to those who piece together the bone and flesh of resilience and wrap themselves in valor, I would recognize the truth:

-below every source of strength there is an exposed place.

The underbelly of bravery is vulnerability.

Vulnerability is most often perceived as a weakness or a liability and in complete opposition to bravery. In so many ways, our vulnerability is the very place where we are susceptible to injury, one of the first places we are attacked, or that tender place that receives criticism most acutely.

But perhaps this “weak” spot is actually a portal.

Brene Brown, PhD., LMSW has spent over a decade researching vulnerability and courage and she speaks directly to this realization. Her research and analysis show that, although vulnerability is at the core of anxiety and fear, it is also the “birthplace of joy, of love, of belonging, of creativity and of faith.”

Vulnerability is the crack that can let the light in.

Being brave requires that I be vulnerable.

When I am willing to look honestly at my heart and all that it holds–the hopes and dreams and opinions and experiences and fears–then that will be my first step toward true bravery. I will find that I am merely exalting bravado if I paint bravery with large strokes of action only.

To be brave, I must come out from under my shell. It is too dark under there, anyway.

And maybe, if you join me, together we won’t “go gentle into that dark night.” Rather, we will go bravely into all that comes at us.  For our bravery comes from strength of heart and openness, from giving thanks in all things, and from opening our eyes to the glory burned right round.

“Embracing our vulnerabilities is risky but not nearly as dangerous as giving up on love and belonging and joy—the experiences that make us the most vulnerable. Only when we are brave enough to explore the darkness will we discover the infinite power of our light.”—Brene Brown


Image credit: Oh Rustico by Tim_in_Ohio on flickr