What is bravery and how can we overcome our fears to be more brave?
Back in August 2013, a bookkeeper at a Georgia school named Ms. Tuff (who is wonderfully named) talked a gunman out of a mass shooting. She showed bravery and courage. (see CNN interview with her at: http://www.cnn.com/2013/08/22/us/georgia-school-shooting-hero/)
So what is bravery and how did she find the courage to be brave? What struck me most about how Ms. Tuff handled the gunman was that she defused the situation with compassion. Compassion for the kids she knew she needed to protect. Compassion for her co-workers and compassion for the armed gunman himself.
Bravery is sometimes defined as doing what is right despite your fear. And that’s what she did. She grounded herself in love and compassion and did what needed to be done.
People sometimes mistake bravery for bravado. It’s clear that’s not what was driving Ms. Tuff. The interesting thing about compassion is that it does disarm anger and fear.
I know that in my past I avoided a mugging by responding to my mugger with compassion. It threw him so off balance that I was able to get in my car and get away all for the slim price of $3.00. When he asked me for money – instead of responding in fear, I responded by asking him how much he needed and agreed to help him.
I had friends in college who had spent a day hanging out with a guy on a hike who they met in the woods who the very next weekend killed 3 people and raped a girl. They thought he was strange but ok. They think the reason this guy flipped on the other group was because they must have responded to him with fear. They met him and treated him like a human being and since they were calm, he was calm.
Compassion helps us anchor our emotions and replaces our fear which is an inward looking emotion and helps us look outside ourselves to others so that we CAN do what we need to do to keep ourselves and others safe.
I spend a lot of my time teaching people how to actively practice compassion and I am convinced there is a reason why every major religion and philosophy throughout the entire history of humanity has preached compassion. It works. It is what enabled Ms. Tuff to do what she did. She wasn’t focused on her fear, she was focused on her compassion for others and she extended that compassion to the gunman himself and that is what made all the difference.