Courage v. Bravery

Bravery and courage are cousins often confused as twins. While they share DNA of context containing an element of fear, upon examination they are quite different.

Bravery is observed and measured from the outside. We see someone perform admirably in the face of danger—whether physical, social or relational—and we comment upon their bravery. They managed well despite apparent peril. They were brave.

We know nothing of their inner experience. We do not know if they stuffed fear down and forced themselves forward, numbed themselves to fear and operated in a pure cognitive capacity—or if they faced their fear, held it tenderly and decided to move through it.

Courage is the latter. It embodies the fullness and acceptance of being human. So much of our culture assumes the former. Fear is something that gets in the way. It’s a thorn in the side of progress. Fear has no place in our world. Fear is for losers. We squash it like the bug we take it to be. If you’re not treating your fear like that, you’re not really a worthy human.

Courage identifies the quality that sanctions the existence of fear, and that holds it as a viable, legitimate element of our integral selves. Holding fear is not the same as acting on it or allowing it to hold sway over our decisions and lives. Courage is holding fear and choosing our course of action based on integrating the fullness of our experience. This is wholly an inner experience or process. It’s difficult to distinguish between courage and bravery in the moment, though contextual observations usually yield helpful hints, chiefly the visible emotions exhibited by the person we’re interacting with.

So, in coaching conversations, when the topic of courage or bravery arises, be sure to look for or inquire into the distinction between them. Learning that shows whether the client is pushing towards—or away from—themselves.

John Dunham is an Integral Coach based in the San Francisco Bay Area. He helps talented executives, leaders and entrepreneurs occupy bigger versions of themselves.

Photo by Ben Welch on Unsplash