Many years ago, my friend wrote me something along these lines: “You should check out the Divergent movie. I think you’d like it. The protagonist really reminds me of you.”
Of course, that comment was like catnip for my ego. I rushed to find out more about it at a speed that would have made light envious.
(Side comment: if you ever need to get someone to read or watch something, just tell them the protagonist is like them. We’re all Narcissus at heart.)
Upon watching the movie, I burst out laughing. Turns out my friend was spot-on! The protagonist’s love interest even had the same name — and interest in martial arts — as a guy I had crushed on in the past.
If you don’t know this YA story, congrats on your level of adulting! Basically, Divergent is set in a dystopian world where people are divided into 5 fractions: selfless, honest, intelligent, peaceful, and brave people.
(No, you can’t be all of them. Pick one!)
Bravery boot camp
“appear to constitute an original set of constructs that are psychologically valid and … of practical use in predicting work life choices and experiences.”
So, let’s explore one of these psychologically valid constructs.
In Divergent, the brave people belong to a faction called Dauntless. Their dress code is, roughly speaking: casual black with lots of naked skin, bruises, tattoos, and piercings.
In the story, timid Beatrix leaves the selfless “Gandhi” fraction and embraces her badass self (“Tris”) in the Dauntless camp.
Meanwhile I’m paling with envy upon seeing her go through their training program which entails jumping out of moving trains, having knives thrown at her, and generally doing things that are diametrically opposed to a healthy sense of self-preservation.
What most intrigued me was that Dauntless members basically go to “Bravery Boot Camp.” In addition to being put through the wringer physically, they are also put into a simulation that confronts them with their biggest fears.
I thought this was incredibly intriguing. Imagine being forced to confront your worst fears over and over and over again — until you have learned to overcome them. Until you have learned that they can’t stop you. Until you have learned that you are stronger than your fears.
It sounds terrible. And great. And terrible. And great. And like something I’d both want and really wouldn’t want to do.
It promises a great bounty in exchange for a heavy price: face your fears and you will be unstoppable.
Why bravery matters
Divergent presents 5 virtues to us: selflessness, peacefulness, honesty, intelligence, and bravery. If you were forced to, which of these should you choose? Which should you dedicate your life to?
While all of them are important, to me bravery is the foundational virtue.
Why? Without bravery, you can’t do the right thing in the face of adversity. It takes bravery to be honest, to put others before yourself, and to pursue peace. And intelligence without the bravery to express it is pointless.
If I were forced to choose and if Dauntless had a slightly better sense of self-preservation, they’re the faction I would pick.
As long as you’re brave, you can be anything else you want.
I was thinking of this the other day when I had to read an email I was dreading. And when I say dread, I mean dread. This email was the outcome of an awkward conversation that related to saying no and setting boundaries. I knew the other person would be disappointed and for good reason.
I warily circled my laptop as if it would attack me, all the while hoping that the issue would somehow resolve itself. Eventually, I realized that I just had to deal with the discomfort. And so I sat down and felt my fear.
It was uncomfortable but I read the email. I didn’t spontaneously combust.
The other person was disappointed but okay. Another conversation and another act of bravery later and we found a solution that was better for everyone involved.
Bravery is in the eye of the beholder
For me, reading that email was an act of bravery. That’s the thing about bravery… what it means depends entirely on you.
Bravery is in the eye of the beholder. You define what bravery means to you.
If you have been bullied in school, giving a public speech might be the bravest thing you ever do. If you have been in an abusive relationship, starting to date again may require tremendous courage. If you have mental health issues, just getting out of bed might be a Herculean effort.
You can’t fully see bravery from the outside. That’s why your experience matters the most.
I once stood up to a few guys who were beating up another guy. To stop them from punching their victim, I kept on positioning myself in front of him. (Thankfully, they didn’t feel like hitting a girl.)
From the outside, my behavior might have seemed brave.
But I eventually realized that it hadn’t been that brave because I hadn’t been very afraid. Maybe I thought nothing bad would happen to me. Perhaps I was naive about the danger. Either way, I felt calm about getting in the middle of a physical confrontation.
Standing up to these guys was less brave than other things I have done — reading that email, quitting my law job, moving to another continent, etc.
But my bravery in those situations wasn’t visible or obvious. It was all internal.
Bravery is an inside job.
A conclusion — and a beginning
The other day, I burst out laughing when I realized that I have accidentally completed a Dauntless training program.
I have boarded buses and trains in Sri Lanka which is about as Dauntless an experience as you can imagine. (Bus driver: “No, we don’t need to stop the bus to let this elderly man depart. Just slow down a bit so he can jump out the door.”)
I had a collision with a flying knife during martial arts training. (The knife wasn’t sharp because unlike Dauntless, I have a sense of self-preservation but a flying knife is still a flying knife.)
I have even faced my fear of being stalked by a gigantic spider. (It’s a long story and you wouldn’t believe it anyway so I’ll spare you the details.)
What I take away from this is a) be careful what you wish for, b) get out of the way if someone is practicing knife disarms, and c) nope, I still don’t like big spiders.
I also realized that we don’t need to go to Bravery Boot Camp. We’re already enrolled in it.
It’s called Life.
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