Wow, have just read the best book! The Society of Timid Souls: Or, How to be Brave by Polly Morland (Profile Books) is fascinating, a work of popular psychology that is a well-researched, beautifully written exploration of courage and bravery.
Morland is intrigued by how difficult it is to define what these virtues consist of, and how elusive they are. Many of the people she talks to don’t think of themselves as courageous and there are different opinions on whether either can be taught or learnt. From the woman who stepped between a ravening Rottweiler and a baby, the soldier who disobeyed a direct order and rescued a fallen comrade, the professor who as a young man joined in the freedom rides and sit-ins of the civil rights struggle in the southern United States, to the firefighter who confronted a would-be suicide bomber on the London Underground, none of them seem to think of themselves as brave, or sometimes even as having made a conscious choice to behave as they did.
Morland’s thoughts about these people and their actions, which we call brave and courageous, are humane, curious and wise – this was such an interesting, profound book which really tries to grapple with why we are sometimes so brave and sometimes not, and whether perhaps bravery consists of as, one hospice worker says, of just doing the next thing, which may simply be taking a breath, until there is no next thing.