BRAVE is a word we’re all going to hear a lot of in the coming months. It is, after all, the title of the latest Disney Pixar animated blockbuster which has been set in the Highlands of Scotland, its heroine a young girl with flame-red curls who has more than a touch of the William Wallaces about her attitude.
Not having seen the movie yet (it will close this year’s Edinburgh International Film Festival with a red- carpet bang), I’ve no idea how to judge the bravery of young Merida.
But this film, and a sick-bed viewing of the ancestral-hunt show Who Do You Think You Are in which actor Matthew Broderick discovered his paternal grandfather had served as a medic in the trenches of France during the First World War – receiving a Purple Heart and other medals for valour – got me to thinking about just how we judge bravery these days.
In generations past, of course, the mark of bravery was enlisting in the forces to fight the wars to end all wars – and not discussing it afterwards.
There has been no world war, thankfully, in my lifetime to match the Great War or World War Two, but still many young men – and women – have fought and lost their lives in the two Gulf conflicts and Afghanistan. They were all, no doubt, people who were truly brave as surely putting your life in danger in the belief that you are serving a greater good is perhaps the ultimate human definition of the word.
But their families too have had to be brave. Brave in the belief that their loved ones would come home. Then brave in their grief, holding on to the idea that death was not in vain.
And those who survived, perhaps not always in one piece, but who came back from these places of bombs, battles and burials . . . they too have proved their bravery beyond doubt.
However, perhaps because of a lack of major world events in which a generation of people have been involved, we look for bravery elsewhere, and it seems to me we now declare the most normal of actions “brave”.
Footballers are said to be brave when they take on some doughty defenders. Pop stars are brave when they climb Kilimanjaro for charity. Actors are brave when they try a different role to their usual stereotyped characters. Well guess what? They’re not. They’re doing their jobs.
Just yesterday I read a columnist state that MP Louise Mensch was “selflessly brave” for taking an internet “troll” to court. Her decision was right, but not brave. It didn’t take courage to report Frank Zimmerman’s appalling threats to her and her family. Just common sense.
Similarly I always have to laugh when I hear David Cameron claim that his government’s cuts to welfare and changes to the NHS – thankfully the latter only south of the Border – are “brave”. He’s not being courageous, he’s being a Tory. He’s not being daring, he’s doing what all Tories have done before. And neither he nor George Osborne are showing resolve in anything much, especially not the last Budget – although Jeremy Hunt is still in a job.
Bravery is sadly lacking in all Westminster parties at present. There’s not one Lib Dem in the coalition cabinet who is brave enough to stand up for what he believes in and actually leave government. There’s not one Labour MP in the shadow cabinet who seems brave enough to give voice to any idea which might come from the left wing. Cowardice rules.
The Leveson inquiry is also showing up the paucity of bravery in the hearts and minds of our politicians, with none of them apparently able to show enough resolve to stand up to a press baron. Well, except John Major.
Of course, we always look to those in power or the famous for signs of bravery. But that’s looking in the wrong place. Instead, we should be hailing the bravery of those who are battling ill health on a daily basis, showing a resolve to survive the rest of us can only hope would be within us should we need it. And let’s celebrate the courage of their families who are getting on with the daily business of living while they know they could soon lose someone close to their hearts.
I have a colleague for whom the word brave fits appropriately – though she would never claim it for herself. In the last year she’s watched her mother fail to recover from a heart operation while her husband was diagnosed with an incurable liver condition – his only hope now a transplant.
Yet not once has she cracked. Not once has she failed to come to work or take the kids to school, or make dinner and do homework, to iron shirts and go for the shopping. She is resolved to continue as normal. She is brave on a daily basis for her family.
And I hope that when I do finally watch the movie, it is that kind of unshowy, dedicated resolution which makes Meridia a brave young woman. Not just skill with a bow and arrow.