At a wine dinner hidden in the hills of Vis Island off the coast of Croatia, a handsome waiter calmly told my travel companion and me to “be brave.” He was suggesting that finishing the one kilo of fish we’d been served could be possible with a bit of bravery. Beyond making us laugh hysterically at the notion that overeating requires bravery, it got me thinking about how little I’ve been told to be brave. This is exactly what Reshma Saujani, founder of the nonprofit Girls Who Code, discusses in her Ted Talk, arguing that we should be teaching bravery, not perfection. It’s also embedded in Brene Brown’s call to Dare Greatly in her book.
In recently reading Alain De Botton’s beautiful work, The Course of Love, I was struck by one of his passages used as purposeful pauses to pull away from the storyline and take a wider lens to the rhythm of falling and being in love.
But too often a realistic sense of what an endurable relationship is ends up weakened by silence, societal or artistic. We hence imagine that things are far worse for us than they are for other couples. Not only are we unhappy, we misunderstand how freakish and rare our particular form of unhappiness might be. We end up believing that our struggles are indications of having made some unusual and fundamental error, rather than evidence that our marriages are essentially going entirely according to plan.
We keep tight lips on our realities for fear of alienating ourselves. We convince ourselves that we are alone in our experience and build certainties that will be judged for the fullness of who we are in the universe. We sit confused by the contradiction of the different elements of ourselves and create beliefs that we have to process each of our experiences to a limitless degree before sharing our truths today. We develop assumptions that we should be one dimensional. We establish safety by falsely telling ourselves that the right amount of effort will successfully control others perceptions which consequently robs us of opportunities to shine a light on the full spectrum of our experiences. We invent permission to opt out of bravery.
The truth is that staying silent breeds alienation. It hides the powerful stage that would otherwise allow one another to really be seen. It shatters relationships by allowing individuals to show up as tiny bits of who they really are. Worse, it tricks us into thinking we are in love when we know only a sliver of someone. It doing so, we obliterate our own self-esteem with the idea that one cannot embody their full humanness if they want to be loved. It trains us to expect perfection despite there being no perfection of being. It robs us of the opportunity to see beauty woven into the hard things by making any discomfort feel inappropriate. We ask others to hide themselves to justify our own doing so, preventing the blossoming of communities within which we yearn to belong. It creates false realities based on curation and sets standards for success outside the bounds of what can really ever be accomplished.
I’d like to see each of us treat bravery as a responsibility rather than a choice. Pick one corner of your life where you are hiding and chose to let it shine.