On a warm evening recently I was talking with my neighbours over a beer. They’re final-year paramedic students, weeks away from graduating and stepping into the real world. There’s been a question floating around my head that I’ve had trouble defining until I sat down to write this post. It’s whether bravery can be taught. Not learned, but taught. I asked them if their course has changed them, and they all emphatically agreed, saying that they can keep a far cooler head under pressure, and feel comfortable running towards the chaos, vs away from it. The question that remains for me, though, is whether that’d actually apply to unfamiliar circumstances. I’m reminded of a quote from Game Of Thrones:
“Bran thought about it. ‘Can a man still be brave if he’s afraid?’ ‘That is the only time a man can be brave,’ his father told him.”
I don’t think familiarity and exposure to a certain kind of situation necessarily equals bravery. If you don’t feel fear whilst doing something ostensibly ‘scary’, does doing that thing really make you brave? I’ve been skydiving for a few years now, and the fear wore off around 20 jumps in. There’s no longer any ‘door fear’, just excitement before I jump. Learning to skydive has given me something to draw on when telling myself that I can do something I’m scared of because I’ve done it before. But there’s still plenty of things that terrify me, which I shirk away from instead of doing.
This brings me to the title of this post. After moving back to the UK I went through a phase of wanting to join the military, as it’d push me into situations that scare me. Ultimately I decided against joining, for various reasons, but I think that was a good thing. I don’t think it would have given me what I wanted. I wanted to outsource the hard work of learning to face things that scare me. And I don’t think anyone can teach me that.