The brave choice
When we last discussed the hit series Game of Thrones on Nothing Special, we noted how we had picked up the first book as brain candy. No Shakespeare. Not even Thomas Hardy. But rather a juicy, pulpy succession story set in the realm of Westeros, at a time when the old gods were starting to give way to the new. We soon found ourselves drawing up charts to keep track of characters, looking up words like portcullis, cursing our feeble geographical sense (even in fantasy realms), and generally wishing we could get back to Hardy. We kind of understand Wessex. Now we’re in over our head!
We persevered, though, and even enjoyed. One passage that struck almost as deep as a Jude the Obscure’s first view of Christminster, was Jon Snow, riding desperately down the Kingsroad away from Castle Black, where he had sworn his life’s service to the Night’s Watch. His choice had been to stay with the Night’s Watch (loyalty to society) or join his father and brothers now embroiled in a war (loyalty to family). He chose family, breaking his oath, but the decision still haunts him. “Even now, he did not know if he was doing the honorable thing.” Thinking later about the maester of Castle Black, who decided on three separate times not to leave the Night’s Watch even when his family was threatened, Jon Snow continues to muse:
“Even now, Jon could not decide whether the maester had stayed because he was weak and craven, or because he was strong and true.”
(By the way, “maester” seems to mean old advisor in the George R.R. Martin series –the extra “e” makes it sound vaguely old and Germanic. I was hoping there might be a Yaeger Maester of Castle Shot)
Jon’s wondering, as he galloped on his frothing horse, got me thinking of all the times when I’ve wondered, what’s the brave choice. Isn’t this a key, often all-consuming aspect of countless decisions we must make in our lives? Everyone knows it’s hard to make the brave choice–but what about figuring out which is the brave choice in the first place. Special people want to constantly push themselves to be the best Special People we can be, so we’re always thinking about this–how can we be braver, more daring, less willing to concede. Here are a few scenarios. You decide which is the brave choice, and which the cowardly one.
1. You have an art show you want to curate. The problem is, you have no money to lease a gallery, collect the art, publicize, etc. You have a rich uncle who will give you the money to put up the show, but you’re also a proud person who doesn’t like handouts (perhaps you’ve also been listening to Republicans a lot). Do you swallow your pride and ask your Uncle for the startup cash, or do you try to get a job at the ground level at a gallery? Which is the brave choice?
2. You have a romantic partner. Your relationship is 80% of everything you’ve always dreamed of. Do you stay in the relationship, or do you keep seeking? Is it brave to throw back the fish and jump out into the great unknown, or is it brave to throw down your lot and say, I have arrived! Which is braver? How about if it’s 85% of your dreams? Now which is braver? To go, even though there’s less of a chance for improvement? Or to stay, knowing you’re pretty darn close.
3. You’ve gotten accepted at Harvard. Congratulations! But you got a much better feeling when you visited Haverford. You’re a little afraid of Harvard, as you know how challenging it will be. Come to think of it, how did you get in in the first place? You like Haverford because you chose it, it didn’t choose you. You know Harvard will open more doors, for the same price, and perhaps push you more. You think Haverford could be the college experience you always wanted–it felt right. Which is the braver choice of school?
4. You have a 3-year-old. You miss your job, but you’re a little scared to get back into the swing of things. Assuming money isn’t the issue, do you go back to work and restart that career you were just starting to see if you could make it in? Or do you stay home with your child whom you love for another year? Is the child an excuse to cover up the fact that you’re scared to go back to work? Or is the getting back to work just a cover-up for the fact that you don’t value yourself unless you’re working? Which is the braver move?
Of course figuring out which is the braver move is only the first step. The next step, perhaps even more challenging, is to figure out if the braver move is the right move. Take example two. What if you decide that it would be braver to cast the line out again, break away from your comfort zone, and strike out to find something more fulfilling? Then you say to hell with that and stay. Is that more cowardly, or can choosing the choice you decide is more cowardly, actually be the bravest choice of all? Are you as confused as I am?
I used to think that if you’re scared to do something–if it really fills you with terror and makes you sick, it’s probably the right move. Now I’m not so sure.
After riding a good several miles down the Kingsroad, Jon Snow is overtaken by his friends and fellow guardsmen, who demand that he return. Jon probably could have talked them down and explained his need to go fight to the death with his father and brothers. Instead he rides back to Castle Black with his friends. Eventually Jon makes the brave choice: he honors his oath to the Night’s Watch and stays to protect the realm from the Others.
Or was he just scared to really leave?