23 Mar 2015 14 Dec 2017
Humans have been attracted by tales of bravery, heroism, courage from time immemorial. It is something in out bent of mind which makes us admire the absurd, makes us stand up & take note of something which on the first look looks crazy, but on further analysis throws up a story of grit and determination. It is this human infatuation with the macho persona that made psychologists & behavioral scientists delve deeper into the behavioral attribute which mirrors this all: bravery.
Bravery can be simply defined as being brave or possessing & displaying courage. In heroic parlance, it's being able to face & deal with danger or fear without flinching or batting an eyelid. Also known as Courage, fortitude, will, and intrepidity it's been associated with various characters both in mythology & business parlance. But it's not just their domain; the common man in his life time comes across various such situations & more often than not displays varying degrees of bravery & grit. It is this common man that I am interested in. Being brave doesn't mean being fearless it rather means a person does what he should do, despite the literal Damocles sword on your head.
It is not much for human fancy but for the very fact that bravery is an attribute very necessary for the smooth functioning of the human world today, has heightened its importance for psychologists. You take the case of a policeman standing up to criminals, naxals, or the common man in an office refusing bribes or the case of a woman braving chauvinistic males to rise up the corporate ladder, in all these cases we find how the world survives because of a few individuals who find inherent courage to brave odds and emerge successful. It suffices to say that bravery as a behavioral trait is highly alluring, and people tend to look in awe at those who visibly possess it, but what we should realize is bravery is something which is inherent & comes in differing forms & origins; hence its study has to encompass all such factors. Bravery in its various forms after all keeps us going, keeps this world inhabitable.
Bravery is a quality of spirit that enables you to face danger or pain without showing fear, but one often misconceived notion of people is that being brave means being fearless. Being brave doesn't me you don't fear the adversity; it means you have the strength of will to overcome whatever fear you have.
Bravery as a concept can apply to a fairly large number of instances, therefore a quick classification of bravery will help us look at its various aspects in greater detail:
Physical bravery: It entails acting or doing something in spite of possible harm that can occur to one's body. The heroic stories of the past or the instances where we act for our beliefs even in the face of physical danger are a typical example of this.
Moral bravery: It involves acting in a manner that will enhance or reinforce ones beliefs to be good and true. This basically is in face of social disapproval and other forms of backlash. In today's world, it symbolizes standing up against the over jealous khaps or the moral police.
Psychological bravery: It deals with acting against one's own natural urges & inclinations, facing our inner demons & overcoming them. This generally doesn't have any societal moral implication. Examples of this can be overcoming one's addictions like drugs, tobacco addictions etc.; getting over irrational anxieties & forms of parasitic relationships.
Basing on the above we reach at a working definition of bravery as:
"Bravery is a behavioral trait which allows us to overcome our inhibitions, our inner fears & gives us the strength to do what we feel is right, irrespective of any form of backlash. It is something which imbibes in us a sense of self-belief which can make us scale mountains & do things which we believed we never could."
Instances of bravery have been documented in various books relating to wars & corporate moves. "Number the stars" which won the Newbery Medal in 1990, tells the story of two ten year old girls, whose homeland is occupied by Nazi Germany during the second world war, it documents the hardships they faced & the courage shown by their parents in shielding one of them(who was a jew) from the nazis. Broadly it describes the condition of the entire Danish countryside. It is a story of grit & determination shown in face of unfathomable risk. 
In the corporate world we have the example of Citibank CEO Vikram Pandit. He is a true visionary, brave man who took over as the head of citi group during the credit crunch period. With steely resolve, Pandit wrote down billions of dollars, closed scores of branches, jettisoned parts of the business, cut dividends, and slashed jobs. He wasn't done yet. Next, he tapped the sovereign wealth funds in the Gulf and Asia for nearly $30 billion, set up a new risk-management team. He also cut the bank's exposure to the risky sub-prime market. All these measures were never easy to take, some unpopular others highly risky, it needed a man of steely character, & Mr. Pandit was just that. 
"Matterhorn," is about a company of Marines who build, abandon, and retake an outpost on a remote hilltop in Vietnam. The story is told from the point of view of a young second lieutenant, Mellas, who joined the Marines for confused and vaguely patriotic reasons that are quickly left in tatters by military incompetence.
One of the "ten most famous battles " of the world. A handful of Sikh soldiers- 21 to be exact - of the 4th Battalion of the Sikh Regiment (then XXXVI Sikh) formed part of the British Indian Army and fought thousands of Pathans in the North Western Frontier Province (now Pakistan). All 21 Sikh soldiers died in the battle as they fought to the last man and last bullet; but they did not yield even an inch of ground that they were defending. On learning of this glorious, gallant and unparalleled action, members of both houses of the British Parliament rose in unison to pay homage to the great Indian soldiers. Each one of the 21 soldiers was posthumously awarded the Indian Order of Merit, the highest British gallantry award then given to Indian (equivalent to the Victoria Cross awarded to the British). 
Courage (shauriya) appears as one of the ten characteristics (lakshana) of dharma in the Hindu Manusmruti. Islam also presents courage as an important factor in facing the Devil and in some cases Jihad to a lesser extent.
"Courage is the self-affirmation of being in spite of the fact of non-being. It is the act of the individual self in taking the anxiety of non-being upon itself by affirming itself ... in the anxiety of guilt and condemnation. ... Every courage to be has openly or covertly a religious root. For religion is the state of being grasped by the power of being itself." 
I have followed the interview approach to study the behavioral traits of a few of my friends. I picked the people to interview on the basis of a few past events, in which they exhibited bravery in one form or another. Each interviewee had a different tale to tell, we will analyze their cases as we progress. The basic questions which I put to them involved a gamut of objective & short answer questions. Their responses were dully noted.
The following is the list of questions that I put to my interviewees, some of the questions differed in language when put to different interviewees. Due to paucity of space I won't delve into the details of their cases.
Did you experience any form of an internal drive to act?
Was it because of the closeness with the person or was it a general sense of wrongdoing that drove you?
Were you certain of success before you acted upon your belief?
Would you describe yourself as fearless? If no then how come you overcame the fear of failing?
Did you factor in the possibility of a backlash or any negative impact on your future?
If you knew that the party was wrong in picking up the fight would you have still saved them or would you have taken the moral high ground & stepped back?
Do you believe in taking risks?
Do you think your above trait has had an influence on your life, (success or the lack of it etc.)?
When going on a leisure trip you find a person seriously wounded & people around him/her having a verbal duel, would you
My friend Mr. X had been to a restaurant in Gurgaon along with his friends. There they saw a couple was being denied entry into the restaurant for no good reason and the manager was even misbehaving with them. All of a sudden the manager summoned the bouncers who manhandled the couple and were going to bash them up. My friend X, along with his pals interfered, they were outnumbered, but eventually they managed to save the couple. In the process though, X got a few blows & was injured.
I will jot down the pertinent findings from the interview with Mr. X
I found that X intervened to save that guy because he believed that it was a case of injustice & that someone should rise up to the occasion, since such an incident can happen to nearly anyone.
X didn't know if he would succeed in saving the couple, but he knew if he tried it would make a difference.
X realized that in process of rescuing the couple he & his friends might get physically injured or face legal hurdles.
I found that X didn't think of himself as someone who was born fearless, X believed that his sense of right & wrong egged him on.
X was basically a risk taking person, & he felt that his risk taking nature had helped him overcome his inner demons.
This person, Mr. Y, was a student of engineering, in a NIT. In his final year, a friend of his (Mr. A) was accused of cyber-crime & data theft, he was heavily penalized by the institute Disciplinary Committee. Mr. Y along with his other friends decided to protest this. They managed to get their entire batch together & sat on a silent protest. The sheer magnitude of the protest made the Director of the institute take note. After speaking with Mr. Y & his friends, he convened a meeting of the Disciplinary Committee, and after a long-stretched process of reinvestigation Mr. A was found guilty of a minor offence, the penalties were reduced proportionately.
The following are my findings from my interview with Mr. Y which are pertinent to us:
I found that Y acted not just because he could empathize with his friend, but because he believed that the ruling was flawed, having not considered the evidences properly.
Y didn't know if he could make any difference to his friends' condition, but he wanted to make the college administration aware of the real case. He believed in a just trial.
Mr. Y knew pretty well that by making a stand, he and his friends risked being singled out & the college administration could victimize them through unfair gradation etc. but they went on with their plan.
Mr. Y defended his friend since he knew that the case against him was amplified in nature, the punishments & the charges were disproportionate. Had Mr. A actually been guilty of all the charges, Y would never have taken up his case.
Mr. Y believed that it they had been pushed to the limit by the administration. He felt that it wasn't their inherent fearlessness but the fact that pushed against the wall he & his friends didn't have a choice but to act.
I found that Mr. Y wasn't always a risk taking person, in fact he even narrated how not taking a risk had affected his career, but in this situation he made an exemption.
My friend Mr. Z was out with his girlfriend, they came across a case of eve-teasing, wherein a bunch of miscreants were misbehaving with two girls. The general public was aloof to their plight. But Z intervened & tried rescuing the girls, in the ensuing tiff Z got injured, but seeing his courage the people around the scene also intervened & they chased away the miscreants.
Interviewing Z was quite an eye-opener, since he had risked not just his own safety but also the safety of his girlfriend to rescue to unknown girls. The findings are as follows:
I found that Z acted since he was both disgusted with the behavior of the bunch of guys, and the public which was turning a blind eye to the plight of the helpless girls.
Z knew that public follows a herd mentality, he knew that if he took a stand the people around will follow sooner or later, luckily for him they joined in soon.
Z wasn't sure if he could take on the miscreants single handedly but he nevertheless wanted to give it a try.
Mr. Z knew that getting engulfed in this issue might risk not just his safety but that of his girlfriend also.
Mr. Z believed that he was quite a fearless person, & but he didn't believe in taking random risks, rather he was more of a pragmatist.
My interviews gave me an insight into the thinking process of the common man, who could don the colors of the superhero & save the day for another commoner. In reality he wasn't someone of superhuman strength but someone who:
Had a realistic sense of wrong & right.
Acted on his belief & didn't shriek away from making a stand
Wasn't by definition a risk loving person
Was a person who factored in the pros & cons of a situation, but invariably decided to back his beliefs
Empathized with the person facing the repression.
The findings of my study gave me a holistic idea of the situations which invoke behavioral traits mirroring bravery in us. I will analyze the findings of my study in the following lines, and try to relate it to the various aspects of bravery.
After going through the responses, I found that the most prevalent forms of bravery are
Psychological Bravery though important is something which I didn't directly find in any of my test subjects, but I believe that this form of bravery is something which we all exhibit in our daily lives. When we get over the anxiety of the future, we in some forms exhibit this, when we get over our fear of water & try to swim we exhibit this.
On basis of my interview the following components of bravery came up:
Empathy: The test subjects realized the pain & stigma that the party being subjected to repression underwent; their empathy drove them to act. It wasn't sympathy or pity; it rather was the tacit realization that such a misfortune can beset them also.
Clarity of thought: I found that in all of the cases, the respondents had a clear picture of what is right & what is wrong; they took the initiative because they believed that the other person was being wronged.
Self-belief/Confidence: All the respondents were to some degree or the other confident of their abilities. They believed in themselves & hence backed themselves up. It was never a half-hearted attempt.
Risk appetite: I found that the risk taking ability of the person didn't have a direct correlation with his readiness to exhibit acts of bravery. Hence this shatters the age old belief that brave people are those who are most comfortable with taking risks.
Fearlessness: Though important, I found that being brave doesn't mean being fearless, it's just that certain situations bring about a reaction in the subjects which makes them appear fearless. But it's just the strength of their inner conviction, not fearlessness which makes them act.
Pragmatism: I found that today's brave were practical about the approach they followed, they measured the pros & cons of the situation and acted in a manner which would ensure the success of their mission best. They followed the more realistic path even if it were the less glamorous.
As we can see, bravery or the lack of it influences the way a person behaves in public to a great extent. I believe when in a group the following implications arise:
Groups tend to give the individual a sense of security, as in case of respondent 1, I think being in a group had its effect on his decision to act.
A brave person, I feel is an asset to have in your team for he/she would be an ideal team-mate, one who is confident yet composed, one who is there to hold the group together in case of any external threat or danger.
Brave individuals don't shriek away from taking the charge, making them ideal leaders.
On an individual level I believe, being brave increases a person's appeal & enhances scope for future benefits.
Brave individuals are generally well known this in turn gets them & their group the kind of visibility which can be leveraged for their benefit.
One negative of an overtly brave individual maybe that he/she might get the group involved in a potentially unsafe situation, as in case of respondent 3, even though not a case of group behavior, Mr. Z could have unknowingly landed his girlfriend in trouble.
The above study of bravery is one of its kind, having studied bravery in a qualitative basis I could arrive at working model to define bravery of a person. As can be seen I could find that there is a correlation between bravery & a few other traits viz.
Clarity of Thought
Using these above traits we can arrive at a bravery scale for a person, this could help various organizations like the police force or private security organizations etc. in their selection process. I believe a more detailed study which involves a greater number of people as its sample, can further clear the doubt regarding the fearlessness trait & bravery. Also I feel a study can be undertaken to study psychological bravery in a select population like inhabitants of a drug rehabilitation camp etc.
After having studied the behavioral trait of bravery in detail, after having considered its various forms & manifestations, I realize that a lot of people exhibit it in their lives in varying proportions. Not every form of bravery is noticed, not every form of it documented, but starting from the woman who fends of eve-teasers to a corporate CEO who takes charge of a troubled giant in times of a downturn, we have brave people whose constant vigour & zeal keeps the world running.
Bravery is a highly preferred behavioral trait; it is something which keeps the world going. It is something that we seek in all the people around us, it is the difference between an entrepreneur & a wannabe entrepreneur, and it is the key to achieve success in any form of activity in life. We can correlate the success of an idea to the amount of courage put in by its proponents, ceteris paribus.
On the whole I can say the above study has helped me arrive at a definition of bravery which I feel encompasses most if not all aspects of it:
"Bravery is a behavioral trait which allows us to overcome our inhibitions, our inner fears & gives us that strength of conviction to do what we feel is right, irrespective of any form of backlash. It manifests itself in face of physical, moral, & psychological danger.
Brave people have been instrumental in bringing about the greatest changes in our lives, & I believe the likes of Mahatma Gandhi, Martin Luther King, Jack Welch, Winston Churchill were brave enough to face their demons & succeed."
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