The 1998 film Saving Private Ryan opens with one of the most terrifying scenes in military and cinematic history: the Allied landing on Omaha Beach in World War II. What touches me most is the courage of the hundreds of young soldiers who, seeing their fellow teammates being mowed down by fire on all sides, nevertheless follow their training, obey their orders, and advance to the shore despite certain death.
We might think bravery means fearlessness, but nothing could be farther from the truth. Certainly, soldiers experience very real fear during combat.
Merriam-Webster.com says courage is “the ability to do something that you know is difficult or dangerous;” bravery is defined as “the quality that allows someone to do things that are dangerous or frightening.” In other words, courage and bravery mean taking action despite fear, not without fear.
How do warriors find the courage to fight in spite of grave danger? Perhaps bravery is inspired by a belief in a greater good, such as battling an oppressive regime to safeguard innocent populations.
Bravery is also required of ordinary people in their everyday lives, even though the perceived danger may be less fatal. A child on the first day of school, a teenager with a brand new driving learner’s permit, and a job-seeker filling out applications are all facing the unknown. Will their next step bring new adventure, or throw them up against a brick wall? They might cling to mommy at the classroom door, collapse in tears behind the steering wheel, or tear themselves to shreds while listing their weaknesses. Or they may fortify themselves by visualizing desirable outcomes: exploring the secrets of the universe, mastering a skill which brings freedom of movement, or contributing to society while earning a living. Growth requires ordinary, everyday courage.
The creative person faces fear as well. Trying something new carries with it the danger of failure. Maybe the idea won’t work, and the money spent on expensive materials will be wasted. Months and years devoted to a project might never reap a benefit. Audiences may be unimpressed with our talents. And many artists never earn even a few thousand dollars per year for their art, so they’re obligated to work a “paying” job as well. Who can thrive, or even exist, under those conditions?
But in the case of art, the compulsion of self-expression overcomes the inertia of uncertainty. The need to be who we are, creators, urges us to disregard the security of the status quo. We go forward regardless of unguaranteed end-result.
I am not saying that an artist’s bravery is equal to the courage of a firefighter who enters a burning building hoping to save lives, or of a police officer confronting someone up to no good. But I am saying that it takes a certain amount of selflessness to do something you’ve never done before (or something no one has ever done before).
Acknowledge the fear. Maybe no one will like our work. Maybe the critics will pan it. Maybe no one will buy it. Maybe people will laugh.
But maybe one other person will see it and be encouraged. Maybe our creation will impact someone’s life in a positive way. Or maybe it will affirm a segment of society who thought they were forgotten.
So, let us go forward bringing beauty to the world, relieving grief by exploring it in detail, extending hope by suggesting a better way. Let us expose evil, invent heroes, spawn universes. We’ve been called to create; let’s do so courageously.
Fear emoji by KAZ Vorpal, found on Flickr