“Sometimes I think everyone is just pretending to be brave, and none of us really are. Maybe pretending is how you get brave.”
– Grenn, A Storm of Swords
By George R.R. Martin
When Grenn, a secondary character in Martin’s A Song of Ice and Fire (and its HBO depiction Game of Thrones) says this, he’s talking to Samwell Tarly, a young man who calls himself craven, a coward, and was told he was such by his father. But both father and son are wrong about what it means to be brave.
We’re all familiar with the stories of brave warriors and heroes standing firm and fearless against whatever threat. What all of those stories forget, or, rather, what we forget, is that nobody is simply brave. There’s no such thing as being brave without first being afraid. It’s not daring-do and stupid stunts without a thought in the world. It’s facing the fear and acting anyway, because one must do what must be done. That is bravery.
Grenn is right about how everyone pretends. We put on our best face and support each other. We act braver than we feel. We stand together or alone against what we fear, and we look after each other. It takes practice to be brave.
And bravery isn’t just bravery. The bravest and boldest heroes in history acted not simply out of courage, but out of love. That’s what drove them forward, that’s what we need to drive ourselves forward, and that’s what eventually drives Sam forward: love. Love for others, love for those beside us, love for those behind us. It’s why we pretend to be brave, until we become brave naturally, for their sake, not ours.
Bravery, real bravery, is just love put into action.