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Sinqer's avatar

What are your concepts of bravery and cowardice?

Asked by Sinqer (520points) February 5th, 2015

If I were a child asking, “What is bravery, and what is cowardice?” How would you answer/explain these concepts?

Can you define the concepts (even if choosing your own definition)?

If so, what are your definitions?

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25 Answers

Sinqer's avatar

My own answer would be…

Bravery: The acknowledgment, assumption, and accepting of personal risk to cease the forceful exertion of will over one’s self or another, and presence of the will and courage to do so. The choice of fight over flight (in regards to fight-or-flight decisions or responses).

Cowardice: The lack of bravery. The choice of flight over fight.

Adirondackwannabe's avatar

Bravery is being able to face a really unpleasant probable outcome, and saying screw it, this is what needs to be done.

JLeslie's avatar

Bravery is having fear and anxiety about something, but still moving forward.

Cowardice is succumbing to fears and not acting.

There is a grey area in the middle to not act, because if real harm that could happen to oneself. It’s a risk equation. It doesn’t only have to do with physical harm, it can be financial, relationships, career moves, almost anything.

Sinqer's avatar

I don’t understand your grey area. How does the harm being real affect the bravery or cowardice of the decision/action?

Sinqer's avatar

That’s interesting, the other ‘fields’ in which you apply bravery (financial, relationships, etc.). Can you provide an example of bravery being applied in one of those areas?

JLeslie's avatar

@Sinqer What I mean is let’s say someone is caught in a house fire and running in to save them is extremely dangerous. The person witnessing the event has three children, is a single parent, and the risk to save another puts his own family at extreme risk because he is the provider with small children dependent on him. He isn’t a coward for not running in to save the person.

Same financially. There might be reasonable risk in an investment, but some people are afraid to role the dice so to speak. Are they cowards? Too worried about the possible downside?

Starting a business might be another example. Someone with a well paying job leaves his career to pursue a dream of his own business. I think those people are brave.

A woman who leaves a marriage she has been unhappy in for years. It’s brave. Especially if she has been financially dependent and never supported herself financially before.

thorninmud's avatar

The two terms describe different responses to fear, yes, but it’s more nuanced than simply heeding or not heeding fear. There’s an ethical dimension as well: these terms apply to situations where there is an ethical and an unethical course of action.

So to endanger oneself just for the sake of proving one’s courage isn’t bravery, and someone who declines to take such an action is not a coward. That’s a classic schoolyard error.

It’s when there is a clearly right course of action and a fear of personal harm from pursuing that course that one’s actions can be called “brave” or “cowardly”.

JLeslie's avatar

@thorminmud Interesting. Your point about clear cut. So, that is the only time you would use the terms bravery or cowardice is in clear cut situations. I have to think about that.

LuckyGuy's avatar

I can imagine a case where the bravest act is the one that appears to be cowardice. Imagine some nut job zealot holds a gun your head and says “accept my god or I kill you!” Saying “No!” and dying does nothing for your cause.
Acceptance and appearance of cowardice lets you live another day and strategically positions you to do far greater damage down the road.

Adirondackwannabe's avatar

It’s not really clear cut is it? It’s in part keeping your head on straight in a bad situation and doing everything you can to make the outcome of a bad situation better. Like @LuckyGuy said, sometimes it’s lying through your teeth.

thorninmud's avatar

@JLeslie I think that in the mind of the person facing the situation there would need to be an understanding that there is a right course of action to be taken. Third party perspectives don’t play into this.

For instance, imagine a draftee into a war who has a personal ethical opposition to killing. In fire fights, he refuses to shoot. This is a situation where there isn’t a universally agreed upon “right thing to do”, so it’s not “clear-cut” (and that’s not the term I used). But in this soldier’s mind, there is an unambiguously “right” thing to do, and taking that course arguably places him at greater risk of harm. I would say that under these circumstances, his refusal to fire is an act of bravery.

kritiper's avatar

Brave people move towards danger, if a remedy is needed and lives are at stake.

Adirondackwannabe's avatar

Or is it knowing how to confront the danger to contain it and minimize it, or knowing when to run like hell in the other direction?

JLeslie's avatar

@thorminmud Again interesting. A few years ago when I was nervous about something and my husband and I were having a fight he blurted out, “I’m not afraid of anything.” It stopped me in my tracks. I became very aware if how paralyzed I was from my fears. It was about trying things in life, not anything like running into a burning building.

For him, maybe it isn’t bravery, it’s just his personality, because he doesn’t perceive the pitfalls and dangers.

thorninmud's avatar

@JLeslie I recently saw this article about a woman who is neurologically unable to experience fear. It makes no sense to speak about bravery in that situation.

LuckyGuy's avatar

Some people run toward the noise; some duck; and some run away.
The strongest group had all three types.

ucme's avatar

Bravery: Having the courage of conviction to pursue your goals without fear of failure.
Cowardice: Contented to go through life without the ambition or drive to further ones aims.

Sinqer's avatar

So, is fear or anxiety a necessary component to achieve bravery? Can one be or act bravely if they have no fear in the situation?

@LuckyGuy In your example (gun to the head, speak these words or die), what action would you consider brave? And what if my cause is to be a person unwilling to comply out of fear or under threat? Would I not die the person I wanted to live and die as?

@JLeslie So it sounds like any action chosen with anxiety or fear surrounding the results would be considered brave… Is this accurate according to your idea about bravery?
Few of your examples match my criteria for bravery (agreeing to disagree), but I am not under the impression that every decision/action in which fear is an aspect warrants one of the two descriptors (brave/coward).

JLeslie's avatar

@Sinqer I don’t know if I would generalize to all or any, but maybe yes it is brave for that individual.

I helped my MIL open her first banking account ever last year and she was a nervous reck. For her it took courage to do it. For most of us it is a nothing.

I guess the definition can vary. Like I says above a lot if the answers are interesting to me. I would say I need to think about it more.

LuckyGuy's avatar

@Sinqer You wrote “What if my cause is to be a person unwilling to comply out of fear or under threat?” Then your cause is no larger and ends with you.
If you remain alive there is a chance you can help prevent others from being forced to make the same choice.

Berserker's avatar

Bravery; fighting dragons.

Cowardice; being a cardinal.

stanleybmanly's avatar

I’ve been thinking about definitions for those 2 terms for a long time. The problem was forced on me as the result of an incident in which my actions were acknowledged as “heroic”. It took little time to realize that the act of “heroism” was instinctive and performed without thought. There was therefore no heroism involved at all. And it gets worse. There is not a doubt in my mind that had I the time or sense to consider the issue beforehand, I would have taken the smart cowardly choice. And that’s the problem with assigning labels to actions performed under stress. It really is pointless conflating stupidity with bravery, and good sense with cowardice. I suppose the heroes are the people with the time to consider and weigh the consequences of their deeds, then proceed to perform the stupid self destructive act counter to good sense. But I will never again believe that a man running away from a battlefield is a coward.

Sinqer's avatar

@LuckyGuy But that cause doesn’t have to start and end with them: I choose to act in such a way as to reduce future threats to others based on the understanding that many people who are willing to commit such acts (zealots with guns as our example) will choose otherwise when confronted with a society of individuals that likewise will defend themselves
If said zealot enters a room of 1+ people knowing it likely that all of them would risk getting shot to take him/her down, then they’re going to do it regardless. But many that would be willing to do this, because they know most people will give in to self preservation, would choose otherwise if they found out (via media or whatever avenue) that most people within the given society will more likely kill them than bow to their will. A society of people willing to take risks in defense of themselves have to deal with less such zealots, leaving only the ones that are willing to give their lives in their attempt. And that means my death, if enough follow suit, reduces the number of people that will suffer such a situation in the future. I would think that’s a bit larger than myself, and I am willing to give my life to increase the ‘presence’ of said numbers (people unwilling to bend) by 1 for the sake of those that will never have to suffer such a situation.

@stanleybmanly I wasn’t really asking about heroism, unless you mention it because you consider it a primary piece of your concept of bravery, though I appreciate the information none-the-less. I understand you to mean that none cannot act heroically without some conscious choice to do so. In which case, what defines a heroic action/decision? I don’t know the details of your experience, but was there a heroic choice even available?

And secondly, your answer matches a lot of other peoples in the thread. Most seem bound to explain or point out the many instances where people are not cowards, or have not acted cowardly. I don’t see any examples of cowardice… have any?

Does anyone have any examples of cowardice, or is everyone convinced that no such concept can be accurately applied? And if not, I would think the concept of bravery would likewise soon follow the same path (if it hasn’t already).

LuckyGuy's avatar

@Singer If outnumbered and outgunned the wise move is stand down and wait. Walking into a meat grinder helps only the undertaker.
If by your death, you take out one of the few zealots you have slightly improved the safety and the odds for the rest of your cause. But if you wait and bide your time you may increase those odds dramatically with an unexpected action.
It is impossible to predict. Contrary to the Marketing Manager’s Mantra, perception is not always reality.

stanleybmanly's avatar

The problem is that they are both matters of judgement. One man’s hero is another man“s fool.
Both bravery and cowardice are terms to be wary of, because just as with words like like duty and patriotism, they are quite useful in driving an agenda, and they are ALWAYS employed in those enterprises requiring the suspension of rational thought and common sense.

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