Dear Meg | Paano maging brave?

One can be afraid but do something anyway, because they have determined – decided! – that the gains outweigh their worries.

Dear Meg,

Paano nga ba maging brave?


Dear M,
Thank you for writing, and for listening to the Gantala Press podcast, that I suppose prompted this question. I was asked what it meant to be mentally healthy, and I said it’s to be brave, and now here we are, and I’m glad. It’s always a good time to talk about courage.

I think courage is the willful pursuit of what is in one’s heart, while at the same time embracing that anything can happen. Because of this, it bears the promise of living one’s best life. Maya Angelou also said, and I quote (again), “Courage is the most important of all the virtues, because without it you can’t practice any other virtue consistently.”

I believe Filipinos have always held courage in high esteem. It should mean something that “duwag” is a favored way to insult our “enemies” when we were kids, and later, the villains in our teleseryes and action films. There is, too, that nursery rhyme about Andres Bonifacio, which was not in our textbooks but got ingrained in young Pinoys anyway. It ends morbidly, if not lewdly, depending on which version got to you, but the essence is of a brave man who did not cower from suffering. We learn early on never to trust cowards, people who ran away from battles, or fought them underhandedly.

Like other virtues, courage does not exist in a vacuum. We derive its meaning from what we hold dear as a community, what made sense to us as a people. Ours is not Hollywood’s me-against-the-world, don’t-care-what-others-think, I’ll-go-wherever-I-want-to-go kind of bravery, which carries settler-colonialist undertones, if you ask me. Perhaps they’d like us to adore Christopher Columbus, but we know better. Gat Andres, Jose Rizal, and Gabriela Silang – they’re our kind of brave.

This choice, I have no doubt, had been shaped by our collective experience of colonialism and oppression. What made our heroes extraordinary was not simply that they stood up to power, but that they did so on account of their fellow man. The “ako” and “siya” became interchangeable; they hurt when another Indio hurt, under the same colonial yoke.

I thought that was good to keep in mind. That we carry in our veins a legacy of bravery, though we forget sometimes. More importantly, that we keep honoring this legacy, by fostering it within ourselves. I think that’s what you wanted to know, and you must forgive me for the long digression.

Our courage grows when we build an inner life, in order to get to know ourselves. The more we know ourselves, the more we are able to trust it and our motives. This way we don’t have to second-guess when we make decisions, and we learn what it means to think with our heart. We build an inner life through constant reflection, interests, and relationships that uncover or affirm our sense of self.

We especially become braver when we actively seek challenges, even when they bring pain. I like to tell counselees that there is no growth when we’re content, that it happens in upheavals. Indeed a certain maturity emerges after grief, loss, and heartbreak, things that shake the core of our being. They reveal to us the plainest truths about what it means to be human. If you could believe me, in discomfort lies our deliverance.

I believe we also foster courage when we pursue things bigger than ourselves. A passion to get lost in – the arts, a vocation, and for many people I know, a cause. As you lend more of yourself in one, you see, then get rid, of the superfluous, the excesses. A life pared down to essentials is a fertile ground for courage.

Being brave will take many forms in your life, and my wish is that you recognize and honor it each time.

In childhood, it appears as this gutsy, irreverent, lawless energy. When I was nine, my friends and I went on treasure hunts in the woods at the back of our school, armed with nothing but sticks. There was supposed to be a tunnel in there and our teachers told us not to go, which was probably the last thing to say to nine-year-olds.

Knowing what I know now I shudder at the thought of what could have happened to us cheeky girls. But we had trust in each other and our community, a faith that nothing could go wrong. And that allowed us to listen to our hearts, and be on wonderful adventures I remember to this day.

On the other hand, being brave in adulthood means trudging on, even in full knowledge of the risks that come with our actions. Courage is not the absence of fear, but the decision one makes about that fear. One can be afraid but do something anyway, because they have determined – decided! – that the gains outweigh their worries.

But as it was for me as a child, it helps to know that everything will be alright. That an entire community has got my back. And so I would add, finally, that nurturing courage, in a more sustainable fashion, is ultimately a collective pursuit.

We raise brave men and women when we create a safe environment for everyone. We raise brave men and women when we show that everyone is looked after, that no one is hurt or left behind.

I hope you get to build a community like this. And I hope you never forget all that you believed you could do as a nine-year old who trusted life and the world, and knew what mattered. Not money or fame or material possessions, but togetherness, a hunger for life, and allow me to say, love.

To end, I would like to dedicate this post to Rita Baua of Bayan, who passed away a few days ago, and who will be sorely missed by comrades from all over the world. She was one brave woman, and her courage has been and will continue to be an inspiration.


Featured image: Custom artwork by Kenikenken.