What happened to old-school human bravery?

The beginnings of bravery: the Midwife (try and ignore the lady’s massive arm, but yeah, I know…it’s a bit off-putting)

According to generations of historic films, it goes like this: in the ancient times of battle and uprising – an aspect of life now largely replaced by IKEA furniture and panicking about your broadband connection’s speed, unless you happen to be a paramedic or a fire-man/woman, in which case you panic desperately about your 3G coverage – bravery wasn’t just an option, it was a way of life; as ingrained as the notion that all witch’s should be burned, or that when night falls, evil spirits lurk and the bras must come off buxom maidens (Knight: “If you remove thy bra, it will protect the village from evilest spirits! Plus I suspect it will also feel quite good.” Damsel: “I’ve heard that one before…). So, when you weren’t trying your damnedest to forge the softest, thinnest make-shift condom you could from the wood of a tree – please…spare a thought for the whores of those first few hundred agonising experiments… – you were eating food which you almost certainly knew would kill you as it had killed many of your relatives and friends, or dabbling in things which magic (now science) said might curse you if you got your toad’s legs confused with your lizard’s entrails. Basically, the moment you opened your eyes, you were locked in a fierce battle not only with your senses, but with everything you could touch or see or hear. About the only time – and this is me purely hypothesizing here – you got any real rest from being brave was when you dreamed about nice things like fields of golden corn and maidens running all smiley through it, the dream climaxing in you both simultaneously defending the maiden from a dragon while making love heroically. Though of course you didn’t ever tell anyone about those particular dreams in such detail…well, apart from the heroic climactic part. That bit you really rammed home. For one they’d think you delusional – have you ever seen someone run through corn smiling, maiden or otherwise? It’s really painful – and for another they’d consider your intellectual interpretations so grotesquely advanced and modern that the friendship would end abruptly. A savage blow to the head, presumably, brains spilling out. Nothing personal of course, that was just the way it was.

Today it’s fine to dream about anything. Dream it, do it, everyone else is, why should you be any different? In fact, dreams now play second-fiddle to CGI — as well as philosophical apes and films so realistic that there really isn’t any point in getting excited about eating chocolate anymore – it’s far easier and less taxing to just watch a sultry Galaxy commercial. That’s not to say that bravery isn’t still an integral part of every-day life, it’s just that things have changed. There is no going back. I really can’t see the average supermarket trolley boy dying with the same amazing dignity that William Wallace exhibited on that stone when his number was up (unless he or she works at Morrisons or Londis or a Poundstretcher with a particularly spacious car-park. Bred into a constant struggle to do better and work harder than almost anyone else on Earth, these down-trodden, resented-by-society workers are, from a very early age, made to contend with things like run-away trolleys and impossible to live-up-to sell-by-dates, not to mention the whole country constantly saying how they will never be as good as Waitrose etc, which would be enough to fuel the fire of even the slackest career-minded person. Which tends to explain why the previous supermarkets have both a much higher suicide and success rate – you tend to go one way or the other).

Try and be brave, go on, I dare you. Take a walk down the shops. Deliberately get in the way of those mums who always gang up together and block the entire width of the pavement. See what happens. I’ll tell you what’ll happen: one of them, or two of them, or all of them, if you’re really unfortunate, will tell you to Piss Right Off – right in front of their children, who are all more than capable of displaying their hatred for you with their small fingers. There will then be a moment when you think I’m not having this! I have every right to this pavement as well as you do. But you won’t do anything about it. You’ll then suddenly think of Google. Or Bing if you prefer to champion the underdog. The point is, without the internet you don’t know what to do. Really, without the internet what do any of us know what the hell to do? Think about a skinny black child growing up in the worst drought of our time in Somalia right now. He never thinks of Google. He’s more brave and daring every time he breathes than any of us out here and you know it.

Aside from all that, it’s probably true that for most of us, being brave has just got boring. As a people we are over it. A few thousand years of bravery is enough to break the backbone of any civilisation, and we’ve just had enough. Really, what’s the point if you don’t actually have to? We don’t need to be brave anymore, for the most part. Usually there’s a way to prevent us having to experience this daft archaic emotion, a way to get around the problem with technology. Being brave is what we used to do before the age of the internet; now we sing “I’ll catch a grenade for ya,” without really thinking the idea through properly (are modern boy-bands – sorry, ‘male groups’ – actually aware of what a grenade’s purpose is?). Unless you want to try and actually get out of your comfort-zone without the internet, of course. But why would you want to bother? It’s much easier just to talk about it – that’s what Facebook is for, after all.

Despite my ranting, we all know I’m missing a lot of modern-bravery out here: the mid-wives, the Policemen, those that risk their lives so we can continue to live our lives – all of these people exhibit incredible bravery which is hard to comprehend by engaging body and soul in Loose Women (the TV show…you’d probably know true bravery if you engaged in enough loose women…). Next time you hear about someone doing something brave, planning something brave, even if it’s dangerous, especially if it’s dangerous, spur them on. Make it clear that they have to do it (unless it might actually kill them, in which case back off a bit). It’d be nice if bravery continued to exist in a thousand years’ time, I think. And we are not going to get there by watching The Only Way Is Essex, that much is certain…

Note: I watched The Only Way Is Essex for the first time the other night. It was better than I expected. Some of the stuff they come out with…