Reading in class.
Drowning in the bathtub.
But this is not normal. There’s no time for all that.
from: Alvin Ho: Allergic to Dead Bodies, Funerals, and Other Fatal Circumstances
written by Lenore Look
illustrated by LeUyen Pham
Schwartz & Wade Books, 2011
The day a young bully in my neighborhood ran his bike into mine and I knocked my head against a tree and chipped a front tooth, I recognized fear. I was not really afraid of the little bully. He was mean, but he was smaller (I think younger, too) than me. He was just mean. And he had a big mouth. I was worried that my tooth would not grow back if it fell out. It was loose and it was not a baby tooth.
Of course, I cried all the way home. I was eight.
I recognized fear that evening. My parents marched me over to the little bully’s house. My irate dad yelled something unflattering about the way the boy was being raised. My mom sized up the devolving situation in a heartbeat and asked the parents to pay my dentist bill, which I’m pretty sure they did. The dentist reassured my parents and me. I did not lose my tooth.
But there was that little neighborhood bully. Under the kitchen table. Crying. Oh my. His undershirt-clad father was pulling his belt from its loops. I never saw such a thing. And I learned something that day. Grown-ups can be bullies.
And even bullies cry.
Maybe that kid grew up to be an ok grown-up. I doubt it, but ya never know. My curiosity is focused on what caused the bullying behavior in the first place. I was minding my own business, coasting home on my bike.
I think it’s a power-thing. Power through intimidation seems to be a common theme in today’s society. When we are intimidated, we feel fearful. According to dictionary.com fear is “a distressing emotion aroused by impending danger, evil, pain, etc., whether the threat is real or imagined.”
We have much to be fearful of these days: COVID-19 and its ever-growing bevy of variants; oversized storms; rampant pollution; unbridled growth of the plastics industry; AI; increasing violence, random and purposeful; liars; politicians who refuse to contain gun violence…closed in spaces, wide open spaces, heights, spiders, public speaking…
Some of those fears are real. Most are not. Most live in our imaginations where they can be stoked and fomented by the bullies of our day, those small people with their big, mean mouths.
In the early 1930s, our country found itself in the midst of the Great Depression. One in four Americans was unemployed. Production plummeted. Food was scarce. And the dust bowl. And the rising threat of European politics. And polio.
It was a time of great fear. Franklin Roosevelt understood the people’s anxiety. His very smart lines from his first Inaugural Address are as useful today as they were on March 4, 1933.
“So first of all let me assert my firm belief that the only thing we have to fear is fear itself; nameless, unreasoning, unjustified terror which paralyzes the needed effort to bring about prosperity once again.”
FDR encouraged a people, scared stiff, to move again. Americans in the 1930s showed courage. They were not fearless. They were scared. Scared of disease, dust storms, starvation, but rose to action through New Deal programs and their own courage.
Brette Warshaw writes interesting definitions on her website called whatsthediff.org. Here’s my take on what she says about the difference between courage and bravery. Bravery is a character trait. It’s how a person is made. A brave person does brave deeds without much thought. It’s just the thing to do, like taking the dare to eat a worm on the playground, or catching the mouse that squeezed inside looking to stay warm, or jumping off the high dive.
Courage is the ability to feel fear, but act bravely anyway. A courageous person acts because the action is warranted and necessary. Jumping into a pool or lake to save someone’s life is an example. Or causing “good trouble.” Or video-taping a murder and sharing the image with authorities and news outlets.
Here are Brette Warshaw’s words: The difference between bravery and courage “can be traced back to the etymology of the words. The root word for bravery is the Italian word bravo which means 'bold.' … The root word for courage, however, is coeur the French word for 'heart.'"
Alvin Ho, in the story quoted above, took heart. He faced his fear of death and summoned his courage. All ended well for him, his friends, and his family. Of course it did. It’s a children’s book. That’s partly why I love them so much!
I’m not a particularly brave person, but like Alvin, I’ll summon courage in the face of fear and try my best to act bravely.
-—stay curious! (and courageous, but wear a mask)