Anytime something tough happens in life, some of the first words you might hear are, “You need to be strong.” I must have heard it a hundred times in the past few months after my mothers’ death and some family complications.
First off, let’s get the definitions clear (from dictionary.com):
Strong: Having, showing, or able to exert great bodily or muscular power; physically vigorous or robust: a strong boy
Brave: Possessing or exhibiting courage or courageous endurance.
(Note: why a male example is provided for the world “strong” is probably a topic for another article)
With the pandemic around us, change, fear, and even death are around us and we are asked to be strong.
From the bottom of my heart, I ask everyone to stop trying to be strong and to stop telling others to be strong. Being able to show power or be robust may be an act that one has to put on at times for the public or at certain events, but such an act of strength is actually counterproductive to what is needed.
Bravery, on the other hand, does not ask for force. Rather, it asks us to look at the world ahead with courage, with eyes up, and to have endurance. If I seriously harm myself after an incident, I may be strong but I’m certainly not brave. If I don’t open up to those who can and want to listen and help, I may be strong but certainly not brave.
Life is also not a sprint…it is a marathon. Thus, bravery brings endurance, the ability to keep moving forward, to the forefront.
It also takes real bravery to admit when one is in need of help, to show vulnerability, and most of all, admit when one is wrong. Making a strong statement is not the same as bravely accepting the consequences.
In most religions and spiritual groups, there are always stories of bravery. There may also be hints of strength within them, but bravery is the true turning point. David may have exhibited strength in slaying Goliath, but he had to bravely face the world during his times of moral crisis. His prayers were not strong, but showed vulnerability, a cry for help, and a total reliance on faith, not his mortal strength.
People who fight against suicidal ideation don’t need strength; they need to be applauded for their bravery to seek help. These hurting souls need bravery to face each and every minute of their lives while also being present in whatever methods they are using to see the world, and themselves, differently.
Victims of crimes don’t need to be strong. They need to be brave to face the situation, follow the law process, seek help as necessary, and to continue to live their lives on their terms.
Those who have lost a loved one don’t need to be strong. They need to be brave enough to know that being strong cannot last forever, but bravery will allow them to grieve in a healthy way, ask for help, face their new reality, and move forward with close friends and family. Being brave may also allow people to find the space to grow and help others while still grieving.
Let’s leave strength for those particular moments in which exertion is necessary, but really support one another to be brave.
My words to a friend as he faced the loss of his mother:
Be strong enough to do what has to be done on her behalf as well as your family’s, but brave enough to be vulnerable to your Higher Power and your loved ones so they can help you and also feel free to share their grief.
It is bravery that carries us through the peaks and valleys of life.