Bob Denny: You are braver than you think!

Clouds move in over the memorial across from the movie theater, Sunday, July 29, 2012 in Aurora, Colo., where twelve people were killed and more than 50 wounded in a shooting attack on July 20.

The Associated Press
Published: Wednesday, August 1, 2012 at 2:14 p.m.
Last Modified: Wednesday, August 1, 2012 at 2:14 p.m.

In a theater in Aurora, Colorado a capacity crowd watched the new Batman movie. A mysterious figure dressed as the “Joker” character from the movie slipped in through an emergency exit, threw a smoke bomb, and opened fire on the crowd. People realized that something was wrong, and responded emotionally with excitement, fear, and panic. One devoted boyfriend covered his girlfriend with his body and said, “Keep quiet and still.” Like many did that day, he demonstrated true courage. He gave his life for her.

What makes the difference between courage and cowardice?

When heroes are later asked, “why did you do it? Where do you get the courage?” they commonly reply, “I just did what you, or anyone, would have done in the same situation.” They’re wrong; that’s not the same way everyone responds. There are as many responses as there were people in that crowded theater. What is it that makes a person heroic instead of cowardly, or show panic, freeze up, faint, or climb over others to get away? How are they able to do this?

Merriam-Webster Online Dictionary defines courage as, “The mental or moral strength to venture, persevere, or withstand danger, fear, or difficulty.” The Wikipedia online definition of courage: “Bravery, boldness, fearlessness, mettle, fortitude, or intrepidity; the ability to confront fear, pain, danger, uncertainty, or intimidation”

These aren’t bad definitions of courage, but they don’t help us to build courage in ourselves. We’re human. That means we are able to choose how we want to think about a situation, and choose how we want to respond to that situation.

How do we develop courage? It turns out that if you think courageous, and act courageous, you will feel more courageous, and be more courageous. Decide to face danger with a strong and competent attitude, and choose to act and behave with bravery and strength. Do what’s the right thing to do. Heroes usually say, “I didn’t even think about it; I did what needed to be done.”

When I was about 10-years-old, I was deathly afraid of shot needles. We were told about upcoming shots days ahead, and given permission notices to take home to our parents. On the ominous day, I worried about it and dreaded getting in line for the shot. I managed to hold still for the injection, but I was so upset that my arm hurt and swelled up nearly twice its size.

Only 8-years later, during Air Force basic training, we were steered single file along a path with railings on each side. Medical techs lined up behind the railings used pneumatic guns that administered bubbles of vaccine beneath the skin on each of our arms. But this time, there was no swelling. I had learned and grown in the 8 years since the school shots. I had learned new ways to deal with fear: Changing my thinking, and deciding that I’ve felt more pain than shots from a blister I got while having fun playing. I wondered about how the guys around me would think of my acting scared, and decided not to act scared. I distracted myself, and thought about playing or napping in the sun on the beach. I learned to act brave, in spite of my fear. Since then, I’ve had 50 years of opportunities to use courage, and I’m pleased with how I’ve handled it. I think I’ve done what you would do in the same situation.

Psychological research suggest that you are what you think you can be, you are what you do, and you are what you define yourself as. You can decide to make choices to think courageously and act courageously, and those choices can give you strength. Do it for yourself, and to be a good example for those around you. Be the best you can be. You will make a difference, and may save a life someday.

Bob Denny is a licensed mental health therapist, and teaches psychology at Florida Gateway College. Offer your comments at

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