There are worse things to be called than brave.
So why do I react defensively to such a compliment?
Criticism is easy to take. Call me emotional or Dr. Spock-ish, obsessive or disorganized, hairsplitting or prone to exaggeration and I’ll nod enthusiastically — any given day, you know.
Maybe we are culturally wired to accept criticism more easily than praise. I had an epiphany in college when a male friend told me my hair looked nice and I immediately blurted out, “So does yours!” He smiled and said, “That was a freebie.”
Since then, I have practiced being gracious and just saying, “Thank you.”
But the conscientious objector in my brain is still alive and well. I hear, “You’re a good writer” and think, “No, anyone would be if they had to write every day.”
I hear, “You take good pictures” and think, “No, it just seems like that because I delete so many.”
I hear, “You are a good cook” and think, “I spend hours on a simple meal — it’s time, not talent.”
I’ve learned to keep the inner commentaries to myself. There’s nothing worse than people who badminton compliments back and forth until you suspect they are fishing for compliments. “No, I’m not.” “But you are!” “Not at all.” “Yes, really!”
But my simple “Thank you” is failing me when it comes to the courage question.
Since I moved from the Plaza to a small town in the Flint Hills, friends and strangers alike keep trying to label me courageous. I feel the need as a public service to set the record straight, lest people draw the wrong conclusions and apply them with tragic results to their own lives. (I am truly prone to exaggeration.)
Uprooting and plopping myself down in a completely new landscape, culture and set of neighbors didn’t require any bravery at all. Courage implies overcoming fear, and there was no fear to overcome. When I thought about moving to Matfield Green, I was certain I would love it: trains, stars, coyotes, Technicolor sunsets, what could be better?
I have realized there is an important difference between courage and fearlessness. One is active, the other passive. One is a virtue, the other an accident of birth. I think I lack a reasonable amount of anxiety. For that I am so thankful. Because in 53 years of not worrying, everything has always turned out all right.
One thing I love in the country is signs you don’t see in the city: “Pavement ends,” “Narrow bridge,” “Water crossing.”
But my favorite is “Open range.” It sums up how I see life: full of possibility and adventure.
Taking your life off-road and into uncharted territory is probably not for everyone. Some people need routine, a feeling of being in control and no-risk guarantees. For them, making a dramatic life change would indeed take courage and might be ill-advised.
Me, I’m just having fun. No bravery required.